By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 7-minute read
- In 2014, Cash Warren, Alan Stewart and Dave Ehrenberg launched a sock brand called Pair of Thieves with an eye on quality, comfort and unique design.
- With a well-positioned product and a bit of luck, the company struck a deal with retail giant Target and expanded into 1,800 stores in a single year.
- A well-rounded team, solid strategy and relatable branding have also allowed Pair of Thieves to execute its mission of reaching as many feet as possible.
Legacy brands often take root when a founder envisions a product that is better than any other on the market. The founding story is no different at Pair of Thieves, a basics brand offering socks, underwear and undershirts for men, women and kids.
In 2011, a simple problem frustrated co-founder Cash Warren: There were no good men’s socks.
“All the dress socks for men were this really thin nylon dress sock that I always hated,” said Warren. “I wanted a sock that was comfortable, but one that I could also dress up in for a nice occasion or to go to work.”
This predicament and the obvious business opportunity it presented led Warren to shift away from his career as a film producer and try his hand in the consumer product world. He recruited two partners, Alan Stewart and David Ehrenberg, and a short time later, Pair of Thieves launched.
Pair of Thieves launched in 2014 with 16 SKUs. Today, it produces more than 300 SKUs per season. In those same five years, the company has grown annual revenue from $250,000 to over $30 million.
This growth was a
feet feat of creativity and strategic planning.
A new kind of basics brand
Warren didn't just drop his production career and throw everything into the sock game without thinking. Like any wise businessperson, he first analyzed the opportunity. Warren researched the branding, pricing and quality of socks on the market and concluded there were indeed a lack of affordable, well-made socks and an absence of cool designs.
“I thought there was an opportunity to bring some innovation, new creative and new voice to the category,” he said.
Warren also concluded that taking advantage of this opportunity wouldn’t require a massive amount of startup capital.
With encouraging results from his market research and the inescapable gut feeling that he was on to something, Warren took the first step toward building a brand.
Pair of Thieves creates socks, underwear and T-shirts for men, women and kids.
The founding team
Warren knew he was going to need help to get Pair of Thieves off the ground. He recruited Stewart, a buddy from high school who owned a graphic design studio called One Long House. Stewart then recommended Ehrenberg, a manufacturing and operations expert with experience in mass retail.
With design and operations covered through Stewart and Ehrenberg, Warren could focus on his particular strength: honing the creative vision for the products and brand.
“I’m really honest about what I’m not good at,” said Warren. “I look for partners who compliment my skill set.”
⭐️ The lesson: Warren recruited his co-founders because they each had unique skills that were necessary to develop the Pair of Thieves brand. When you don’t have all the skills needed to launch a brand or project -- and it’s rare that you ever will -- it’s essential to recruit the right partners, either internally or externally.
Cash Warren (left) founded Pair of Thieves with David Ehrenberg (middle) and Alan Stewart.
An exceptional product
Beginning with their first sock samples, the Pair of Thieves co-founders wanted to do something different to satisfy the unmet need in the sock market. They focused on quality construction, design and affordability.
Pair of Thieves products have what the brand refers to as "sneaky performance." Synthetic fabric blends lead to more breathability, more moisture-wicking capabilities and “four-way stretch” for the brand’s socks, boxers and underwear. Products have a distinct sense of style thanks to creative patterns and color variations. The relatively low price point keeps them accessible to a wide demographic. Retail pricing is $14.99 for three-packs of socks and $22.99 for two-packs of boxers and undershirts. (Similar brands charge about $13 for one pair of socks and around $30 for one pair of boxers.)
Paying close attention to this combination of factors has allowed Pair of Thieves to succeed at well-known retailers including Target, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, in boutiques and through e-commerce channels.
⭐️ The lesson: The Pair of Thieves co-founders kept pricing affordable in an attempt to attract as many customers as possible. Though this strategy can be challenging to carry out, it’s a win for businesses looking to both scale their brands and find wide product adoption.
Pair of Thieves boxer briefs have what the brand calls "four-way stretch."
Executing the strategy
The Pair of Thieves strategy was to sell products to large brick-and-mortar retailers and subsequently build a robust e-commerce platform.
Early in its history, when the company offered only men’s and women’s socks, it got a shot at its first big retail account. Ehrenberg was in contact with Target buyers (from another product category, not socks) who eventually connected him to the sock buyer. The sock buyer said they’d give Ehrenberg five minutes to make his pitch.
The meeting went well -- really well. The brand’s blend of comfort and design filled a hole in Target's sock category, Warren said. The products were suitable for exercise or everyday wear. Plus, the pricing was right for Target customers. Soon, the guys had an order for Pair of Thieves in 270 Target locations.
In addition to socks, Target now stocks boxers and tees from Pair of Thieves.
According to Warren, it was a stroke of luck.
“Target was looking for a new product in the sock category, and Pair of Thieves fit the bill,” he said.
When his team received this large order, they hadn’t yet completed a significant production run. So they negotiated terms with their manufacturer, took a huge risk and self-funded the order.
Target customers loved the product. By the end of 2014, 1,800 Target locations stocked Pair of Thieves. Suddenly, the brand had achieved sustainable retail status.
The e-commerce piece
Four years later, Pair of Thieves also owns a thriving e-commerce platform. The website is not only a brand touchpoint but also the company’s second-largest sales channel, offering “website exclusive” products that are different from those offered at retailers.
In this model, the Pair of Thieves e-commerce channel doesn’t directly compete with the offerings at large accounts like Target.
"The big takeaway for direct-to-consumer is segmenting your product assortment so there's a reason for people to go to your website,” said Warren. “It’s also important not to compete against your in-store, brick-and-mortar business.”
⭐️ The lesson: Your website should reinforce your brand while also offering a unique experience from the one customers get in-store. Engaging content like blog posts, video and marketing material, special discounts and product exclusives can accomplish this.
The Pair of Thieves website serves as a personality-packed brand touchpoint.
Building a visible brand
After securing major revenue pipelines, the Pair of Thieves team turned their attention to brand awareness. They achieved greater visibility through up-market accounts, relatable branding and on-brand collaborations.
In their quest to open additional revenue pipelines, Warren and Ehrenberg targeted respected up-market retailers. As a result, Pair of Thieves is sold in famed local boutiques from Martin Patrick 3 in Minneapolis to Fred Segal in Los Angeles.
To win these accounts, the team passed up the trade-show circuit and chose to cold-call and email buyers directly.
“It was a challenge to get through to the buyers, but we just kept calling,” said Warren. “We weren’t afraid of a little rejection.”
And once the team secured meetings, they were dogged about winning business.
“There were dozens of cases where we turned a no into a soft yes into a yes," said Warren. "That's what sales are all about."
⭐️ The lesson: Warren’s number one tip for sales is to remain undiscouraged. A persistent approach helped Pair of Thieves get shelf space at up-market retailers.
He also recommends listening to feedback from buyers. For Pair of Thieves, this meant developing new packaging, designs and fabric specifically aimed at the boutique market.
Even with high-end accounts to its name, Pair of Thieves doesn't take itself too seriously. The brand’s marketing is a mix of fun, colorful imagery and witty, self-deprecating humor.
“At the end of the day, we make underwear, sock and undershirts,” said Warren. “It can either be really boring, or you can find a way to dress that up and have some fun with it. We chose the latter.”
Warren gave a simple explanation for the company name, which exemplifies the team’s witty, mischievous spirit.
“Who steals the sock that goes missing after doing laundry?” he said. “Pair of thieves.”
So far, the quirk appears to be working. Pair of Thieves has a strong social media following with over 65,000 followers on Instagram and more than 34,000 on Facebook. A branding campaign during the holiday season -- which used Instagram as well as online and video ads -- boosted online sales by 830% and website traffic by 1,200%. The brand has also scored press hits in publications including GQ, Goop, Men's Health and Fast Company.
⭐️ The lesson: Amidst of sea of sexy and athletic-flavored branding from other companies in the basics category, Pair of Thieves chose humor and wit to stand out from the competition. Don’t be afraid if your brand’s voice sounds different than competitors’.
Pair of Thieves uses Instagram to reinforce its whimsical, witty brand personality.
Another facet of Pair of Thieves’ branding plan is its collaborations with other well-known brands. The team recently collaborated on a holiday gift bag for Nordstrom, which included Pair of Thieves socks that matched the print on diapers and bibs from The Honest Company. Another collaboration, with sneaker brand Straye, featured a shoe inspired by a Pair of Thieves sock print. The team have also connected with Disney for an upcoming collaboration that will feature some of the famed studio’s assets on socks.
“We collaborate with brands that bring product extensions that we’re not going to do ourselves or allow us to access a new target audience,” said Warren.
He added that product collaboration is a two-way street; both brands should find value in a partnership.
⭐️ The lesson: Collaboration for collaboration’s sake lacks value. Modern brand-building requires multiple touch points with your consumer, but not just any touch point will do. Keep each customer interaction positive and consistent, both in terms of branding and product, to grow a loyal following.
Pair of Thieves collaborates with other brands to offer limited-edition gift bags and more.
🌱 The bottom line
You could say Pair of Thieves has excelled due to four primary factors: a well-rounded team, innovative products, shrewd business strategy (including an e-commerce plan) and relatable branding. These strengths have allowed the company to excel without raising a dime in fundraising. Meanwhile, the company has seen staggering growth.
And don’t expect it to slow down anytime soon. Warren has visions to expand his brand’s footprint.
"We want to build a legacy brand, innovate and bring quality products to the most people possible," he said.
We think they’re a shoe-in.