A dapper gentleman clad in a sharp suit crosses his legs to reveal dress socks printed with red chili peppers.
It’s a scene that has played out in different variations in board rooms, ballrooms, churches and other social settings in recent years.
And a sock company with roots in Spartanburg, JL the Brand, hopes to make its mark by starting its own trend that combines quality with whimsy.
“In the 1980s, statement ties were all the rage,” said Jeffrie Berline, the “J” in JL the Brand. “Socks have become the medium for clever, humorous expression in men’s attire. They’re just a lot of fun.”
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Berline said the company was sparked by a photo that his buddy and fellow Auburn University alum Louis Oswald sent him five years ago. It was a picture of a pair of blue dress socks with red crabs on them.
“We wanted to bridge the gap between the high-quality black and blue dress socks and the cheaper socks with outrageous designs,” Berline said.
The two men decided to go to “sock college” at the Manufacturing Solutions Center near Hickory, N.C. Berline and Oswald learned that prior to the decline of American textile manufacturing to cheaper overseas imports about 85 percent of the world’s socks used to be made within 100 miles of Hickory, N.C.
They decided early on in addition to quality and creativity, American-made would be at the core of their company’s mission.
“This isn’t mass production to establish a cheap margin,” Oswald said. “It’s more important for us to make sure the quality is top-notch.”
The socks are made with Pima cotton grown in California. They are knitted at a plant in Oakboro, N.C., and finished at a facility in Burlington, N.C.
Designs range from a skull and crossbones to four-leaf clovers and beyond. The socks are available in a variety of color palettes. But the founders said what separates their socks is what they call the “muscle.”
“That’s what helps the socks stay up on your calf,” Oswald said. “You can wash them time and time again. The color won’t fade and the fit remains the same. That’s what we hear from our customers.”
Berline said the company’s socks are available in about 10 men’s clothing stores across the country, including Prices’ Store for Men at 196 E. Main St. in downtown Spartanburg.
JL the Brand, however, has made a significant push online via social media in partnership with the digital marketing company SEO.
Berline said the brand has made inroads with celebrities, pro athletes and other nationally-recognized figures. He has even sent sock samples with handwritten notes to the likes of Warren Buffet and Anderson Cooper.
“Every time one of them posts something on Instagram or Facebook, we see a major bump in sales,” he said.
Oswald and Berline recently hired Elliot Schuessler to serve as CEO. He will be responsible for growing the company.
Berline, who works full-time as the owner of All About Care SC, a Spartanburg-based non-medical home care provider, credits his father, Jeff Berline, local businessman John Bauknight and Harry Price, owner of Prices’ Store for Men, for serving as mentors and helping the company find its footing.
“(Berline) is very receptive to mentoring,” Price said. “He understands that just because you have a great product, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a success. I’ve seen a lot of quality products that haven’t sold. … The market either gets it or rejects it. And I think that’s where (JL the Brand) is having success.”