Stance socks make a fast break for fame on NBA players

A variety of Stance socks are displayed at the company’s test retail space in San Clemente, Calif.
A variety of Stance socks are displayed at the company’s test retail space in San Clemente, Calif. TNS

Rihanna designs them, Jay Z sings about them and the rest of the world can’t seem to get enough of Stance socks.

The company’s comfortable, colorful and well-made take on humble hosiery is turning the sock into the next pocket square and becoming a pop-culture status symbol along the way.

In just five years since the first Stance socks hit retail, they’ve earned a shout-out in Jay Z lyrics (“This ain’t gray sweat suits and white tube socks / This is black leather pants and a pair of Stance”), attracted a constellation of celebrity investors (including Jay Z and Will Smith), brand ambassadors (the bands Santigold and Haim), and now its first celebrity designer in Rihanna, tapped to collaborate on a line of socks and help shape the fall 2015 advertising campaign.

At the same time that Stance’s fashion-brand approach of employing seasonal inspirations and designer collaborations has made the label a hit in the lifestyle arena, its line of performance socks for runners, golfers and the like has attracted the attention of the sporting crowd, leading to a deal with the National Basketball Association, which will make Stance the league’s official on-court sock starting on Tuesday, Oct. 27, when the 2015-2016 season tips off.

Perhaps the only thing more improbable than what Stance has done in such a short time is where it’s done it from – a nondescript industrial park on a San Clemente hillside, smack in the middle of a sockless stretch of Southern California coastline better known as the stamping grounds of the surf-and-sandal board sport brands.

Several of the five co-founders have roots in the action sports industry, including the company’s president John Wilson (who had stints at Reef and Oakley), chief creative officer Aaron Hennings (who spent a decade at Billabong) and chief marketing officer Ryan Kingman (Element). Rounding out the founding quintet are chief product officer Taylor Shupe and chairman and chief executive Jeff Kearl.

Kearl remembers walking the aisles of a Target store in San Clemente, considering products like sunblock, jewelry and luggage. “Then we came to the sock aisle,” he said. “And it was literally black, white, gray and brown. The crazy argyle patterns were on the bottom rack, and most of the socks were in these big value-packed plastic baggies.”

Over the next few months, Kearl dove deep on socks, paying attention to how they were displayed in stores, how they were priced, how sales associates reacted. He says he bought hundreds of pairs on his way to the realization that that this was exactly the sleepy, overlooked, under-valued category that had serious potential.

Stance was officially founded by the end of 2009, with the first pairs of socks hitting retail in late 2010. The first three accounts were specialty surf shops: Surfside Sports on the Costa Mesa/Newport Beach, Calif., border, and Jack’s Surfboards and Huntington Surf and Sport, both in Huntington Beach.

Surfside Sports co-owner Duke Edukas called the decision to stock the new sock brand a “no-brainer.”

“We were always low on socks, people always needed socks, and as Jeff (Kearl) pointed out, socks were more of an afterthought in our industry. But I never thought in my wildest dreams (Stance) would catch on as quickly as it did.”