Best Foot Forward
This interview was originally published in Issue One of Sisu Magazine.
This female-founded sock company out of Cape Town, South Africa is making our toes curl with their killer designs and a social conscious to boot. We sat down with Chelsea Wilson, one of the founders and CEO to find out how they started and what lies ahead for them.
How did FEAT. start?
It started in 2012 with a friend. We always had a tradition to buy each other socks as gifts or for dance class. This little thread ran through our friendship. In 2012 traveled in Europe and brought back a pair of socks and we thought it would be so cool if we designed socks together and had them made in Cape Town to support the local industry. It was a little project with four designs and it started working. In 2013 we exhibited at our first trade show and secured some stockists. We started with spots and stripes and then got into a groove with adventurous designs in 2014/15.
What is the inspiration behind the prints?
We enjoy travel and Cape Town, and it’s nice to be able to reflect aspects of that. I’ll design around a specific adventure I’ve been on. Like the Iceland collection. I wanted to go for three years and finally went last year in September and designed five socks. It’s such a limited canvas but can tell such a cool story of adventure. And then you take the socks on an adventure with you!
What’s been the hardest part of the sock biz?
One challenge is with being young and female is for people to take you seriously. You’re going to meetings with potential suppliers and you’re telling them your ideas, and they think you are still a student and your business is not going to be anything. They stalemate you and you have to email them incessantly to show them you’re serous. And then there’s the people assume you’re a sales assistant when they come into the store. They ask me who runs the business and when I say it’s me, they are shocked.
Another challenge is as your business grows you need help finding people who you can trust. Being a boss is scary for me. I also want to be a generous boss, but I don’t want people to take advantage of me. It’s hard to find trustworthy people, people who appreciate generosity but don’t take advantage of it.
Why important to you to manufacture locally in South Africa?
In the past decade or two, manufacturing in SA has dwindled quite significantly because it’s cheaper in the East. As a result, many people have lost their jobs and affected certain regions of the Western Cape. In regions like Mitchel’s Plain and Grassy Park, the breadwinners were mothers and sisters who were in clothing manufacturing. When manufacturing moved East, that whole group of people lost their jobs and the bread and butter for their homes. For me, it’s important to support local for that reason—job creation. And when something is closer to home, you have more of an idea of people behind my product. You can see that they are happy and that the conditions of the factory are good, and you can maintain the quality control side of things.
What do you think works best in business?
Businesses that work the best are the ones that are birthed out a need, something that you can’t find. When we started there were no sock brands. The locally made ones were boring. There was nothing fun or exciting, nothing that we wanted to wear. We started to see internationally there was a trend for fun socks and we wanted to be the first people to start it here.
What’s one piece of advice for new business owners?
Business can be very difficult with the internet now because you can see everything. But not everyone can do something the way that you can do it, to put your handprint on it. There are other sock brands out there, but they don’t design socks the way that I design socks. You have to be smart and not do something that is saturating the market, but trust your style and ability to add something unique to the market.
Where do you see your business 10 years from now?
This is a challenging question because it’s just me. It’s not a separate entity, it’s a limb linked to my personal goals. Obviously I have a whole lot of other personal things that are outside of the sphere of Feet. If I look at it on it’s own, I plan on expanding into stationary and gift wrap—to reinterpret the designs into different canvases. There’s a lighthearted essence of the brand that I can apply to a range of products. It would be exciting to have more stories that encapsulate all of the playful fun designs onto a range of products that I love.
Ready to up your sock game? Find a selection of FEAT. socks on our website here.