Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
When anyone quips that something's as exciting as getting socks, they've clearly never received a pair from Stance. In just five short years, the San Clemente-based accessory brand has gone from a 10-by-20-foot windowless basement to a 22,000-square-foot two-story creative paradise—and that's not even counting a second building that houses Stance's hi-tech sock-testing facility and accounting and finance departments.
Founded at the end of 2009 by a group of active lifestyle industry vets, Stance hit the ground running the following year. "January 2010 was like the first day of work—right after New Year's," says co-founder and chief creative officer Aaron Hennings. Since then, the brand has essentially gotten 658,000 people excited about underpinnings for feet, sold over 15 million pairs of socks, and scored Rihanna as a contributing creative director. That's not all: the brand recently struck a deal with the NBA to be the league's official sock (its court socks dropped just this week), and it's also on track to ship 12 million more pairs this year alone. Whoa, indeed.
Nestled in an unassuming industrial park in the Spanish-inspired coastal city, the OC label's design studios features everything from a kitchen with full-time chefs and Stumptown coffee on tap to a skate park that overlooks a volleyball and basketball court. There are ping-pong and foosball tables, an in-house gym with its own director of wellness, and walls decked out with killer artwork from Stance's creative crew of Punks & Poets—during our visit, surfer/artist/musician and crewmember Brian Bent just happened to be shredding with a friend at the kidney-shaped bowl.
After touring Stance's inspiring digs, we sat down with Hennings to find out how the brand was born, what it's like to work with Rihanna, what's next for the brand (spoiler alert: undies and a contest with a major prize are in the works), and more. Explore more inside the space above and read on below.
Where were your offices before you found this space?
We've always been in San Clemente and this is actually our third space. On day one, we rented an office downtown in the basement, we called it the bunker. It was a little 10 by 20 basement with no windows. It was myself and Ryan Kingman, John Wilson was there, Taylor Shupe was there—he was our production director at the time [and] did a lot of work in China. After a couple of years, we moved to a slightly larger space in downtown San Clemente, it was a Spanish-style office building. A couple offices, a conference room, and a kitchen.
Somewhere [between] November 2012 or March 2013 we found this space. It started just as a blank warehouse. At the time, I remember when we walked in it felt really big—this enormous, expansive warehouse. [I thought], "How are we gonna afford this, how are we gonna build this out?" Luckily, [co-founder] Jeff Kearl had a vision [that] we're gonna grow into this, we're gonna build the mothership headquarters here.
Did you always plan on including all the anti-corporate elements, like the skate park?
Yeah, it's one of the founding principles of Stance to have a work/life balance that's healthy. When you talk about work hard/play hard, it almost is [more] reinforced and more important to us to play hard. Part of [our] vision was to create a space that was definitely anti-corporate and more than anything was a place that would attract talent and let people be themselves, let them have a place to work, to play, to relax, and do all of the pieces of life that you should be doing on a regular basis—work, exercise, private time, some collaborative time—to have a physical space that facilitated that type of mentality.
We dedicated a lot of square footage and a lot of money and buildout and design to the area out in the back—the volleyball that happens on a daily basis; there's [also] dodgeball, basketball, volleyball. We've got the crew that does the skate ramp, we've got the guys that keep their mountain bikes out in the containers and hit the hills in the afternoon. It's just a really positive, strong company culture and the building is really the centerpiece for all of that.
What's your favorite space in the studio?
I like the front [lobby]—it feels right, it feels 'Stance'. It has the right amount of color and energy and interest; it sets the mood when you come in. I like being back on the skate ramp with my boys and playing out there, [but I also] like being in the meeting rooms getting stuff done. The creative studio is really my center and my home for all things that the brand does.
Did your plan always include scoring fans in the streetwear scene?
Strategically the first market [we] attacked was the skate industry. That happened for two reasons. One, [co-founder] Ryan Kingman [who came from Element skateboards] was an expert in that space. He knew the right people, the market, the athletes—he was kind of a kingpin in that industry. In a lot of ways, the fashion influence comes from the skateboarders.
One of the surprises was when the urban sneaker culture latched onto Stance early without us necessarily trying. That was just a natural connection that the community had with their footwear and socks. Guys were matching their socks to their shoes.
All of a sudden, Stance became this big resource for different colors and patterns and prints to match back to sneakers. It kind of organically happened in that space. Then we decided to address it and approach it from a business and commercial point of view in an authentic way.
You guys are now getting into the underwear game. How'd that come about?
I'd say about a year ago it really popped up on our radar. It came really from the marketplace. The retailers that already carried Stance kept asking for it, [but they said that they] can only [stock] so many socks. There was also a lot of competition coming up in that space in men's underwear from new brands popping up to the established brands [that] had always been there.
Our sales reps were being approached to represent them and sell into them. The retailers were getting sales pitches [from brands] saying that they were the ‘Stance' of underwear. We thought, "[Now] it's time for Stance to be the ‘Stance of underwear', so let's get serious about it." It was a combination of all of those things together and the time was right.
How did you guys connect with Rihanna?
Rihanna has been fantastic to work with the last year. We have a wonderful director of women's; she spearheaded the Rihanna campaign and collection. It came about really through relationships. It's important to us that Rihanna—she loved the brand to begin with; she loved what we did creatively—wanted to be part of it.
Her manager is [Roc Nation co-owner and CEO] Jay Brown, he's been on the Stance board of directors since nearly the beginning and he's a friend of [Stance co-founder] Jeff Kearl. She's always looking for the right commercial partners to work with where she can be afforded a creative outlet [and we all] thought Rihanna would be a great fit for the brand.
What's it been like working with her?
More than anything, Rihanna brings a fresh eye and her own style. She's wonderful because she has the ability to straddle both sides of the fence or cover the whole spectrum. She can be at the Met Ball one night in a diamond gown and the next day she can be in her sneakers and baseball hat with the guys on the street—whatever it is, she has this ability to go the high-fashion route as an icon, she can be a musician and an artist, and she can not forget her roots at home as well.
She brings a lot of that depth and diversity to the brand. She [has] a strong creative point of view, and real attention to detail. She's very hands-on in product design and in the creation and the approval and editing of her collection.
Where do you see Stance in five years?
I see it growing globally, spreading the same brand philosophy and DNA and principles around the globe—hopefully it shows up internationally as strong as it [does] in the US. [We want to] keep some of the core San Clemente vibe that emanates from here but also put an international polish on the brand.
Ultimately, we just want to provide something fun for the consumer, something that has a little bit of an emotional and comfort piece and a fun reason to buy a new pair of socks.
What's the coolest compliment you've gotten on Stance?
Oh geez. Everything from "I put on a pair of socks and it was the most comfortable thing I've ever worn, it changed my life" to "My kid was getting bullied at school and then he showed up with a pair of Stance socks the next day and he fit in fine and everybody complimented him on what he was wearing," to when people say, "Hey, how can I work at Stance?"
Then there's the compliment when people are shocked and amazed at the business we've built in such a short amount of time. It's been a lot of hard work, a lot of luck, everything had to go our way.
That was another thing that was important to me as a creative was to build a home for all of this. To be able to essentially start with a blank canvas and create a brand from scratch that resonates with people and is commercially successful.