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How Boldfoot's Brad Christmann Created Very Patriotic Socks

Images courtesy of Boldfoot
Images courtesy of Boldfoot

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Did you know that D.C. is something of a hotspot for sock entrepreneurs? Ex-Living Socialers started Nice Laundry, Defense Department employees launched luxury, USA-made sock company Penance Hall on Kickstarter, and a D.C.-based consultant created Proper Socks, dress socks with performance-running technology.

And now Arlington-based Brad Christmann is introducing Boldfoot, made-in-the-USA socks at an affordable price point — with 6-month sock insurance and $1 donated to vets for every pair purchased. Now those are some patriotic socks. Christmann chatted with Racked DC about his love for socks, why D.C. is so sock-centric, and how you can ease into being a "colorful socks" kinda guy. Want to score your own Boldfoot socks? Check out Boldfoot's Kickstarter page, which is already $7,744 over Christmann's goal with 24 days left to go.

Have you always had a love for socks? How did you get this idea?
After graduating from business school, I wanted to launch a business, but I didn't have an idea I truly loved. That's when my brother reminded me of an idea I had when I was 9 or 10 years old – reversible socks. Unfortunately, reversible socks are a bit too expensive to manufacture, but I started playing around with patterns and colors. My limited Photoshop skills improved over time, and I found that I couldn't stop developing new patterns. After creating 75 or so, I decided now was as good a time as any to try my hand at entrepreneurship. We only have a finite amount of time on this earth to explore our passions, and that window has a giant clock attached to it that is counting down to zero. I wanted to turn the clock off.

Why do you think D.C. is a hub for sock startups?
Interestingly, the majority of the most successful sock startups on Kickstarter have all come out of the D.C. area. There have actually been four successful projects in the last 18 months. D.C. definitely has an affection for great style, but other than that, it's just a strange coincidence, I suppose.

Why is made in the U.S. important to you? Was it tough to figure out how to manufacture the socks? 
I knew I wanted to start a company with a higher purpose, but there are so many great causes out there it was tough to narrow down. After examining the labels on my clothes, I quickly realized how few of the items were actually made in the U.S., and I soon discovered that just 3% of all clothing sold in America was actually made here! I was blown away by that stat and knew I'd found my purpose.

In terms of manufacturing, it's always difficult to get going when you're the new guy at the bottom of the totem pole, and I actually worked with two other manufacturers before I ultimately found my partner just outside Philadelphia, who has been amazing, by the way. The trick is to ask questions that gauge the manufacturer's appetite for working with startups in the initial conversations, ideally getting something in writing if at all possible.

Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to tiptoe into being a "colorful socks guy"?
If you're on the fence about jumping in headfirst, you can definitely wade into the water a little slower. Find a pair or two you like that aren't too outrageous and try wearing them out on the weekends or maybe on casual Fridays at work.

One of the reasons I love fun socks is that they are conversation starters. You'll undoubtedly get a compliment or two, and those comments of positive reinforcement become addictive. It's hard NOT to go bigger over time. It's almost as if you were a celebrity on the red carpet. People will literally ask you, "Who are you wearing today?"

What has been the most challenging aspect of launching your business?
The most challenging aspect has probably been spreading the word. Marketing outreach is a full-time job in and of itself, especially when you have little to no budget. I've taken a test, learn, and iterate approach to marketing, placing small bets in a lot of places and investing more in the tactics that work best. As a one-man-band, I only have so much time, and I really can't afford to place all my eggs in one basket with no guarantee of success.

What is your ultimate goal for Boldfoot?
It may sound crazy, but I believe Boldfoot can become the best sock brand in the U.S. I realize how audacious that sounds, but I don't think anyone should settle for a company that's "good enough." After all, no consumer is looking for a product that is "good enough." They want the best, and I hope to give it to them. Within a few years time, I hope to have expanded the product line, established some great retail relationships, and more importantly, helped thousands of consumers understand the importance of buying American-made. There's a 1.7x multiplier when someone buys American-made, meaning for every $100 spent on USA-made goods, $170 is re-invested in the U.S. economy. I'd be quite proud if I could inspire even a few thousand Americans to purchase more American-made products.

Do you wear Boldfoot socks everyday? Which designs are your favorite?
I definitely try to wear interesting socks every day, even some from competitors. In the end, we're all in this together. The vast majority of people still wear your average black, navy or grey socks, so we're all helping push the fun/colorful sock movement. As for my favorites, I'd have to say the Charlie is right up there given that it was one of the first designs I ever created. Still, the Statesman is my go-to. It just feels good to wear something patriotic, and it also happens to be the favorite of my godson.
· Boldfoot [Official Site]
· Boldfoot [Kickstarter]