They tell people their sock designs are conjured up by sitting down together with a bottle of rum, cola and lime… and some crayons.
Now, this trio of local entrepreneurs – Troy Schmirler, Lindsay Gordon and Josh Collens – who founded Calgary’s Plainsbreaker, are poised to become one of the only cotton sock manufacturers in Canada, with a shop right here in the city.
Collens said the idea for Plainsbreaker was born out of frustration more than 14 months ago as the three of them were shopping.
“I enjoy colourful, fun, bright socks where I can express my individuality,” said Collens.
“The problem is, I’m not made of money and I don’t want to spend $30 on a single pair of socks.”
They later sat around a table at the Milestones at SouthCentre Mall talking further about the sock debacle. They figured someone out there should be making a fun, individualized pair of hosiery that’s affordable for everyone, so these patterns could be worn every day.
“We said, ‘yeah, somebody should do that.’ Low and behold… it suddenly happened,” said Collens.
Schmirler, the company’s CEO, lived and worked in China for six years so he had contacts there to explore pricing on production and raw material costs. They soon realized they could craft a quality sock for less money. A lot less – and still contract the best factories and source high quality raw material.
That’s when business overseas began, and sock production ramped up. They sell primarily online and in local markets, and with “hustle,” Schmirler said.
Fourteen months and more than 22,000 pairs of socks later, they’re bringing the full business back home.
With the support of a Canada Small Business Loan through the ATB, Plainsbreaker is investing $250,000 in three new sock-knitting machines to produce their unique socks in a newly-leased 1,550 square foot location in southeast Calgary on 116 Avenue near the Deerfoot Inn and Casino.
“These will be the same machines that are making your $30, $80, $120 pair of socks,” said Schmirler.
It’s certainly uncommon to manufacture these kinds of products in North America. Recent reports state that since 1990 employment in textile mills on this continent has shrunk by 80 percent, while sock imports have grown by 2,000 per cent.
They’ll need to train on the machines in Italy before they’re fully operational and producing socks in Calgary. They aim to be taking custom orders by mid-March and then locally producing their retail market socks by the end of June. At that point they expect they’ll be able to knit 100 pairs of socks daily – in an eight-hour shift.
The next step is a push into custom socks – whether that’s for sports teams, weddings or corporations – and Collens said having control of the design and manufacturing process locally gives them the most flexibility to meet demand.
While the local production offers them flexibility to grow their business, it’s the Canadian pride that fit their brand and their personal identities. They know it’s going to cost them more and they understand there’s a reason why companies choose to manufacture overseas.
“There’s a big push toward locally-made, Canadian-made suppliers that I can look in the eye and buy from them and support them because I’m supporting my local economy,” said Gordon.
“That’s a big void that we’re filling.
“Alberta made – no one’s doing that right now. Where Troy and I choose to spend our dollars is we want to be at local breweries, we want to be at farmers’ markets, makers’ markets, buying their locally-made goods.”
Schmirler, Gordon and Collens envision rapid growth here in Calgary. Schmirler figures in five years they’ll go from three machines to 20, and from their current roster of eight people to as many as 20.
Plainsbreaker wants to push beyond the southern Alberta market where most of their socks have been sold. They have staked their brand on going local with high quality, affordably-priced designer socks produced right here in Calgary.
“I don’t want to get caught in a race to the bottom… but I don’t want to have a product that costs $30 that the average Joe just can’t afford,” said Collens.