Socks are more than just an ordinary article of clothing for Rachel Smith. Growing up in a household of seven with few resources, she didn’t know what it meant to have her own pair of matching socks. She also didn’t know what it meant to feel a sense of pride in herself. After years of searching for something she could be proud of, Smith found her niche. In 2010, Smith founded an apparel company called Pride Socks selling socks with bright rainbow stripes. Since then, she has not only been in the business of making quality socks and other colorful apparel ranging from trucker hats to newborn swaddles, but has sought to inspire others and help them discover the pride within themselves and what it means to be proud.
Smith talks about Pride Socks and the inspiration behind it, her proudest moments, and why it’s important to continue promoting pride in our community.
What was your inspiration behind the company?
To start off with, my parents are deaf – they can’t hear or speak. They had five kids, so we were raised very, very poor. We all shared socks – holes, mismatched, and whatnot. So socks have always been something I’ve been very possessive of because we didn’t have many growing up. So, that was one key factor.
Then, I started teaching high school. The first thing I noticed was that these kids didn’t know what it meant to be proud of who they were. It really bothered me, because I knew from my own personal experience, I didn’t know what it meant to be proud until I was a sophomore in high school when started running cross country. My coach would say she was proud of me, and I would ask, “What do you mean you’re proud of me?” And she taught me what that meant. When I started teaching high school, I thought, this is what she was talking about – for these kids to know what it meant to be proud of their work, proud of their work ethic, proud of anything about themselves. It bothered me because I knew I couldn’t teach them [to feel proud], I had to bring them to an experience that made them feel a sense of pride in themselves.
And how did your brother help pave the way?
My brother had started a sock company, and after years of me serving tables and teaching, I begged him, “Let me do sales for you. I’d rather just teach and sell socks for you.” He said, “Rachel, just do your own thing.” I knew at that moment when he said, “Do your own thing,” I was going to quit teaching. But I knew if I was going to quit teaching, I had to do something more than just push a product out the door. It had to have meaning. So, I connected my childhood, my experiences being raised in the deaf culture, and teaching. I put all of those together and I said, “Oh, Pride Socks!” I wanted to take my past experiences and put them into a product. The rainbow means hope, so my hope is that whoever wears my socks, whenever they look at the rainbow, it’s a reminder to them to continue doing good for themselves, and in return it does good for others as well.
What is the creative process for Pride Socks, from design to distribution?
Well, we always stick with the rainbow. The process starts with looking at other designs, not to steal, but it’s just a natural thing for people to do. Then, once the idea comes, I have an amazingly supportive partner who’s very creative, so we’ll bounce ideas off of each other. Because my manufacturer is in Alabama, it literally is a drive or flight away. I go there, and I tell Chuck, who is the owner, “Let’s make this sock,” and he’s like, “Alright, let’s make it!” A couple hours later, we have a product. I take a picture, send it to a few people, and ask, “Should we do this?” Then we’re like, “Let’s do it!” From the guys who make the samples, to the guys that sew the seams on the socks, to the guys that wash them, to the people who package it, I have a relationship with every single one of them. So, I know exactly who’s making my sock and what the process is. I like that it’s hands on.
Your brother has a sock company as well, Skatersocks, so it seems to run in the family. How does your family inspire you?
I’m very, very fortunate that there are five of us, and they’re my best friends. Any time I have an idea or something comes up, I ask my siblings. It’s like having four mentors. It’s inspirational on a daily basis. As far as my brother goes, he’s been my mentor since day one. He always jokes – because he’s been in the business for 11 years and I’ve been in for four – “Alright, Rachel, it’s just going to be a couple more years and you’re going to be surpassing me.” Because we’re both in business and we’re both in socks, we always bounce ideas off of each other.
You try to inspire others to express themselves and to have pride in the things they do in order to fuel their dreams – why is it important to you to deliver that message to others?
I have this core belief that anybody can accomplish whatever it is [that they want to accomplish]. I understand that we all come from challenging backgrounds, and I understand some people have been more fortunate than others. But I honestly believe that every individual has it within them. I had one person who had that effect on me and it’s made a huge difference in my life.
It’s important to me to bring those stories [of pride] out. People need that. I’ve had so many people come to my booth [during Pride], and I ask them to write their proudest moment on a sticker that I provide them with, and they’re like, “I don’t know.” So they read someone else’s proudest moment and they say, “Wait a minute! I do have a moment.” It inspires them to remember that goodness within themselves. They always had it, but they never think about it. It’s important to me because we all have it. We just need to celebrate it and bring those stories to life, and honestly, to spread more goodness.
The LGBT community is well-known for showing its pride. How would you describe the relationship between the LGBT community and Pride Socks?
I go to Pride and talk to people and get their pride stories. [They] are coming out for the first time or coming with their parents to Pride, so it’s a defining moment in their lives. They have been in negative relationships or had finally freed themselves from their parents who told them they were all of these things that they weren’t. They’re freeing themselves and feeling proud and finally taking ownership, saying, “This is who I am and I’m proud of this.”
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
That’s a really good question because that’s a question I push on a lot of people. I have to say a couple of things. One would be making my parents proud. It makes me feel good knowing that they are proud of me.
My passion is people, which is connected to my proudest moments. When people tell me how my socks have made a difference in their lives or they tell me a story and I get to share that story and it inspires the next person to do something good with themselves or go in a direction that they didn’t think they would go in. That makes me proud because I feel like I’m that connection. I feel very fortunate that I get to be that center piece.
Interview by Megz Tillman
Check out Pride Socks at www.pridesocks.com or at this year’s Pride Festival!
Austin Pride Festival
Sept.20 11am – 6pm
2101 Jesse E. Segovia St.
Pride Socks – Booth 92