Taft produces unique handmade clothing, footwear, and accessories. Their initial launch struck a chord with men and women across the globe when they launched a successful Kickstarter campaign selling no-show socks.
Since then, Taft has experienced exponential growth through social media marketing, growth hacking, and more.
In this customer spotlight, we caught up with Kory of Taft to take a look into this family run business to see how they got to where they are today, and how they earned over $40,000 in one day after being featured on Reddit.
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Can you give us a bit of background on Taft?
My wife and I both graduated from University in April of 2013 and almost immediately after, took off for a five week trip to Europe. I had a couple job offers but none that I felt really excited about. I studied linguistics and minored in business management, but at the end of the day nothing felt really right.
I thought about going into management consulting, but my wife and I both thought the hours were just too much - we were expecting our first child and I wanted to be around.
During the last week of our trip, standing at the steps of Sacre Coeur in Paris, I had the idea to start making men’s no-show socks. It was totally out of the blue, but I had seen so many people in Europe going sockless so it was just on my mind throughout the trip.
I knew it couldn’t be comfortable to always be barefoot, and I knew it couldn’t be good for their shoes. I also knew that there weren’t any great no-show options for men out there - they were all too flimsy or slipped down off your heel after a few steps.
As soon as we got home I set to work on finding sock production in Asia, and almost immediately started prototyping. We had never done anything like this before but I was passionate about the idea and I just felt in my gut like we could really rock it.
I’ll never forget sending Paint (yes, Microsoft Paint) renderings of sock designs out to my family and friends, asking for their input. These designs were absolutely horrible, and I’m sure my parents were concerned about my “after-college” plans.
It took months of prototyping (and learning how to use Illustrator) to get it right but after a while we finally had a product I was really stoked about. We did tons of wear-testing and started to prep a Kickstarter campaign. We launched the Kickstarter campaign in March of last year, and fulfilled all the orders late in the Summer.
We started Taft as a husband and wife and still operate the business out of our home, now with two little kids in tow.
How did you create, manufacture or source your product? What were some lessons you learned during this process?
When we started out with no-show socks, we found a product that we thought was a good starting point and then scoured Alibaba until we found that manufacturer. It took some time to get the communication rolling, but we requested samples from them right away. They started out by sending us what they had done in the past, and we tried to pinpoint which socks were the closest to what we’d envisioned.
We passed gave them changes we wanted them to make, and then moved on to the next step of giving them our designs.
I spent a lot of time designing everything in their requested format, and then even more time picking each of the colors. Something that was always a big hiccup was getting the colors just right. It took some time before our factory told us how they picked the colors they used and suggested we got a Pantone book.
In the meantime, it felt like every time we got samples, at least one of the pairs was a little off. After months of working together, our factory told us that in order to really move forward, all of our designs needed to consist of the same five colors.
We obviously weren’t excited about that, and made the decision to start hunting down another factory. The trickiest thing about this process was that we had never produced anything before!
We didn’t know if this was just how it worked. There was so much miscommunication and the process just felt so slow. We’d design something, wait a couple months to get it, only to realize it still wasn’t right.
We had no standard to compare this factory to, so it wasn’t until we found a really great factory that we realized how dysfunctional our relationship with the first factory had been.
What was previously taking months and many, many rounds of samples was now done in one or two rounds of samples. Making the decision to leave the first factory was key - our business wouldn’t be what it is if we hadn’t done that. Figuring out production and getting the product just right was what took the longest, by far.
We had the idea for Taft in May of 2013 and didn’t launch officially until March of the next year.
It took a lot of patience to wait for the product to be just right. We ended up working with three factories total, the third being the one we currently produce with. It took some time to make sure that not only was the product solid, but our relationship with the manufacturer was as well.
When it comes to our shoes, we actually found our factory through their Instagram account. We had similar designs sampled in both China (working with our sock contacts to find a shoe factory) and in Spain so we could compare quality and pricing.
We got samples back and they were honestly pretty similar. We weren’t thrilled with either of them initially.
A few weeks after getting samples we found out that the Chinese factory we had sampled with was a bit shady. The factory owner had run off with $40k from another business he was supposed to be producing for, and was nowhere to be found.
If there was ever any question where we should produce, we got a lot of clarity really quick.
We obviously decided to go the Spanish route, but I still didn’t feel like the shoes were where they needed to be. The factory told me that, really, the best route was to fly out there and design the shoes in person.
My wife was due with our second baby any day but we felt it was best. We waited till our little girl arrived and booked my ticket to Spain from the hospital.
I left for about a week when she was two weeks old, and spent that time really getting to know the factory and designing the shoes. I designed every tiny detail and hand picked every sole and every type of leather. It was beyond valuable to be there in person - the process was just so much quicker. What would usually take months and thousands of emails took just a couple days.
If you have the luxury of time, sending product back and forth and back and forth will eventually get the job done. But we know now from our experience with shoes that it’s much, much easier to go in person. There were no surprises and no wondering if it would turn out right. I was able to explain what I wanted done and see it happen first hand. I couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of the shoes now. They’re exactly how I envisioned them.
How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from? Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?
Our very first sales came from Kickstarter about a year and a half ago! We were featured on Gear Hungry, Cool Hunting, and Super Compressor during the campaign and that really helped boost our pledges.
We raised about $47k through Kickstarter and as soon as we fulfilled those orders, we immediately got to work building an Instagram following.
Right from the start, we felt of the importance of producing great photos and posting beautiful content.
We started to build a pretty sizeable following as a result of our photography and have used that as our primary strategy to push sales ever since.
Note: Be sure to take a look at how to build a massive following on Instagram.
Because of our presence on social media we’ve really organically become friends with people who also have a lot of social media influence.
We’re forever grateful to our blogger friends who continually post about our stuff and tag us in their photos. Our mentality has always been that if you create beautiful content and great products, people will want to share it.
How did your sales pick up?
Our sales have really picked up in spurts. We had our first spurt with the Kickstarter and another big sales pick up when our Instagram following starting growing exponentially.
Our biggest pickup in sales definitely came from our Reddit hug.
We had a kind customer post about a sale we were having on our no-show socks. We’d been planning for months to launch shoes and had the socks at a steep discount to make room for some incoming shipments.
We intentionally hadn’t posted about the sale in hopes that people who wanted the socks would find them organically and it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly.
We had over 2,500 orders in the space of 48 hours and have been doing everything we can to really keep that momentum going.
Beyond that, launching shoes has been a huge pick up in sales.
How do you handle fulfilment and organize the back-end of your business? Can you share some key lessons and tips on doing this successfully?
Right from the beginning we decided to work through a fulfillment center.
We had over 1,000 orders from the Kickstarter campaign, and knew that in order to get them out in a timely fashion – that was the best way to go for us.
You were recently featured on Reddit and saw significant traction from that. How did that happen?
The whole Reddit experience was pretty nuts. A couple weeks ago we listed our socks at a pretty steep discount - we were preparing to launch our new line of shoes and needed to free up some space at our warehouse.
We chose not to post about the sale on our Instagram and had hopes that we’d sell through the socks from organic traffic to our site. One of our customers took note of the sale, and shared it on the Frugal Male Fashion Advice subreddit and things really took off from there.
A lot of other users were excited about the sale and I did my best to respond to every question and comment. People were really responsive to that interaction, and we ended up on several other subreddits because of it.
Before we knew it we were completely sold out of socks.
We were planning on launching shoes later in the week, but decided to take advantage of all that traffic and launch right then and there. It was really valuable to get feedback on the shoes and we actually ended up launching a pair we weren’t planning on starting out with because of all the feedback we got.
After being featured on Reddit, did you notice any other men's lifestyle blogs feature your product?
In our work with Taft we’ve really built a lot of great relationships with bloggers. Many of them have become friends and we interact regularly. But after our Reddit feature I definitely noticed a lot of our referring URLs were other blogs we hadn’t previously worked with, which was really exciting.
One of the biggest benefits of our Reddit feature is just getting our name out there more and being featured on these other blogs is a great way for that to happen.
How are you managing pre-orders with your online store? What is the process like from pre-order to fulfillment?
The Reddit feature really forced our hand a bit earlier than we were expecting, so pre-orders is the only way to do it. We let pre-orders roll in for a couple days to see what kind of demand there would be.
After selling a couple hundred pairs of shoes in the first few days, I knew what quantities to produce the shoes at.
The shoes are currently in production and will be delivered around the end of December. We will ship our international orders from our warehouse in Spain and ship all US orders from our warehouse here in Utah. We will continue to take pre-orders on our site until the product gets here, and then get back to shipping same-day.
I am offering a special pre-order price on the shoes to help incentivize people to make the purchase now rather than wait until shoes are in stock. Pre-orders is a really amazing way to save money on inventory, warehousing, and production costs.
My goal is to be completely sold out of everything by the time the shoes are done being produced.
You mentioned you and your wife are running this business together. What has life been like since your recent explosive success?
Ever since our hit on Reddit it has been completely non-stop. I thought we were busy before but this is just a whole new level. I’ve been the “can’t-eat-can’t-sleep” kind of busy.
About three days into all the madness my wife and I realized we hadn’t had a real conversation in days. It felt like I had just been out of town or something. On the third or fourth day we finally found some time to go out and as soon as I got outside my eyes started burning because it was so bright - I realized it was the first time I’d even left the house in days.
We’ve just been on that grind.
My wife has been corralling the kids so I can get everything done and helping me any chance she gets. It’s tough but we just keep saying it’s the best kind of busy to be. We’re answering questions, communicating with our warehouse, placing orders, and working on re-stocking product all while continuing to create content for our Instagram account.
I’ll never forget the weekend of our Reddit hit. It was just total madness.
It was just total madness. My wife and I were driving up to meet some family for dinner when we started seeing orders trickle in quicker and quicker. We got about 7 or so orders on the drive up and had 55 by the time we got our food. We noticed all the traffic was coming from Reddit and found the post. We were so excited but had no idea what was to come. When we got home we realized the orders weren’t slowing down and, if anything, they were picking up.
We went to bed that night feeling very grateful.
I was frantically trying to keep up with all the questions we were getting on Reddit while expressing my gratitude over and over again for everyone who was buying socks.
At around midnight the orders were still coming in strong and my wife asked me if there was any way we’d sell out. Minimum order quantities are really high when it comes to socks so we had plenty. I assured my wife there was no way we could sell out overnight. She insisted I still put a cap on the number of orders we’d take so we could sleep without having to worry about it, which I did.
The next day was a Sunday, I woke up to hundreds and hundreds of order notifications but things seemed to be slowing down. I still felt confident there was no way we’d sell out, knowing just how many boxes of socks we had.
In one of our posts on Reddit I alluded to the fact that we needed to move all these socks to prep for our shoe launch. People started asking about the shoes, I started showing pictures, and before I knew it I was looking at my wife saying “I think I’m going to launch shoes right now!”
She told me to go with my gut, and I did. I had taken all the necessary product shots in the days before (we were planning to launch later in the week).
I wrote quick descriptions and listed the shoes for pre-order. Shoe sales immediately started trickling in around the same time I marked the women’s socks as sold out.
Unexpected launch shoes? Why not? Crazier things have happened.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. I do this all the time. I think “wow. they are so amazing and so successful, why am I not there?” And then I remember that they have been doing it for many years and have a whole team behind them.
Never compare yourself to brands/companies that are at a different stage. It is discouraging and not productive.
Work relentlessly to create a great product. If the product is great, then people will buy it and marketing becomes a lot easier.
Be willing to put in the work. I think one of the key characteristics entrepreneurs need is grit. Owning a business is gritty and messy and you just have to be willing to do that work.
But also.. keep perspective on what matters most. A thriving business means nothing to me if I’m failing at being a dad or husband.
I’m those things first and foremost and a business owner second. Sometimes the hardest part of owning a business is calling it a night, letting yourself be done for the day, knowing you can pick it all back up tomorrow.
Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. So it’s important to take care of yourself and make sure you’re fit to be in it for the long-haul.
There’s nothing worse than burning out.
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About the Author
Tucker Schreiber is an entrepreneur and content crafter at Shopify. He writes to inspire and educate readers on all things commerce.