Seven years ago, Joanna Godwin’s family dilemma was simple — but as dramatic as life can sometimes be.
As the Great Recession strangled the economy, her husband’s door lock distribution business — which sold primarily to homebuilders — started to shrink as the housing industry collapsed.
“I’d never lost customers,” Kenny Godwin said. “I always kept and (added on) customers. Then, all of a sudden, they just started dropping off, and I said, ‘Whoa! Something’s happening.’ Over a two-, three-year period, by 2012, 2013, we’d lost about 90 percent of our business.”
With his business struggling, the Godwins faced the challenge of supporting their four children and paying the mortgage. They were forced to change their lifestyle, dropping their country club membership, cutting back everywhere they could, taking out a line of credit on their home and accepting financial assistance from Kenny’s family.
“It was by the grace of God we did not lose our home,” Joanna Godwin said. All the children got jobs and “we pulled together,” she said.
Pulling together meant looking for another source of income, which eventually led Joanna Godwin to start a business designing her own line of women’s socks. Today, the company, called JoJoSox, sells its products in 800 retail outlets in the United States, Canada and Europe, with a small presence in Australia. The Orangeburg company’s sales last year reached $200,000, Kenny Godwin said.
The company has become large enough for Joanna Godwin to try to seek business advice from a nationally known mentor. She entered Canon Inc.’s MAXIFY Mentors program contest, which features a grand prize that allows the winner to pair with Barbara Corcoran of the popular “Shark Tank” television show on ABC. While JoJoSox did not win, the company was one of seven runners-up. On her LinkedIn page, Corcoran congratulated Godwin “who despite all odds built a great business.”
JoJoSox started with a simple equestrian sock with a horseshoe on it in white, black, pink and blue, Godwin said. “Sometimes you just have to start ugly, but just start,” Joanna Godwin said.
Godwin, who rides horses in the English rider style, said most of those riders train and ride in a short boot, which hits just above the ankle. “It gets hot here,” the Orangeburg native noted. “There was not a sock specifically designed for a short boot.”
After designing the sock, she called on her brother, who ran a sock business many years ago, and he arranged for her to meet a manufacturer.
Godwin said she asked the manufacturer if it would produce a $1,000 order of her designer socks and give her 30 days to pay. The manufacturer agreed.
Kenny Godwin said he told his wife that the next step was to load the socks in the car and hit the road, taking their socks to the streets.
Godwin went first to stores from whom she had purchased horse apparel in Camden, Aiken and Charleston. The Godwins needed to sell half of the 252 pairs of socks they received in their first purchase order but ended up selling them all.
From there, the Godwins’ daughter, Jessica, jumped in to help redesign the look of the socks, adding new colors, new mixtures of colors and designs. The next purchase order from the manufacturer was for more than 1,200, and the Godwins traveled to the southern tip of Florida and back up to Maryland, calling on stores, they said.
Business really picked up when JoJoSox crossed over from just an equestrian fashion item to the larger casual dress fashion market as an accessory for skinny jeans and fashion boots, Godwin said. The socks then became available in a larger selection of stores and to an even larger customer base.
Socks, somewhat similar to bowties, have become a rising fashion statement, Joanna Godwin said. Trouser socks, widely sold in women’s sections of many department stores, usually end up in a pool around the ankles, then slip under the foot, Godwin noted. That leaves a market devoid of a cute sock that also works, she said.
A good sock needs to be breathable and draw moisture off the skin, Godwin said. It also needs to fit correctly and look good.
JoJoSox’ products are made of CoolMax fiber – 43 percent of which is made from recycled water bottles — and rayon from bamboo. They are manufactured for the company in three textile mills in the Carolinas.
Godwin said store owners tell her that the “style of the sock draws the customer’s eye, but the fit keeps the customer coming back for more.”
Among the stores selling the socks is Monkee’s of Columbia, a national brand women’s apparel store.
“We love the product,” said Judy Miller of the Columbia store. “It’s a mother-daughter team, and one of the things I like about it is it’s local – it’s in our state and it’s produced here.”
Miller said she loves telling the story about JoJoSox, and her customers like the product. “They actually design a lot of the patterns and colors, and the colors are so fun. So everybody loves it because it’s almost like a little surprise sock.”
The quality, though, is wonderful, Miller said. “If you’ve got them on with your boots, and mainly we sell them to go with our boots – they stay up. They don’t ride down your leg.”
The Godwins have been traveling to a wholesale trade show now every six months, plying their trade. Joanne Godwin has traveled to trade shows in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, California and Las Vegas.
Besides Monkee’s of Columbia, JoJoSox are sold in the Columbia area at Just the Thing Boutique, Copper Penney, Copelands, Scout & Molly’s, and the gift shop at Palmetto Health Richland hospital. The socks retail from $12 to $20 a pair. The socks also are available at jojosox.com.
“The name is key,” said Kirstie Boone, sales associate at Just the Thing Boutique in Columbia. “I think that really draws people’s attention in because they are already somewhat familiar with the name brand.
“Then, they make a great sock for women that you can put on and it doesn’t fall down when you wear boots with it . . . and that’s a big selling factor, especially in the fall and winter when women are wearing boots.”
JoJoSox developed through the Godwins’ perseverance. Joanna Godwin praises her children for being hard workers and for not giving up.
“It’s not easy. Some people say, oh, let me know when you make your second million, and I’m like, ‘I just want to make this month’s mortgage.’ ”