Evan Ross started Sock Hop as a pop up business in 2015 inside his long-time bike tour company in the Old Town neighborhood of Portland. Sock Hop specializes in selling brightly colored socks that have creative designs, sassy quotations, and patterns with different cultural themes. A lifetime lover of socks, Evan's first experience with bold and bright socks came while playing soccer growing up.
“Part of our soccer uniforms were tall socks with striped patterns. They came in different colors that you could match to your team’s jersey and were used to hold the shin guards in place during the game," Evan says when asked about his sock history.
After high school, Evan moved to Santa Cruz and started handing out resumes looking for employment. He landed a job at a retail shoe store that also sold a wide variety of socks.
“This is where I learned about sourcing socks, merchandizing, inventory tracking etc... The store had a designated “sock stocker” in charge of the displays and I worked with them during my shifts. I learned a ton just from observing.”
After living in California, Evan decided to attend college in Washington. He started to pursue a degree in Outdoor Leadership, and trained as a mountaineer and adventure guide. As part of his training, he designed an independent learning contract to hike the entire 2,608 mile Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada.
“The challenge was to show how I was learning about mental health, physical fitness, route planning, navigation, and logistics—the skills I would need to be an effective adventure guide and outdoor leader. The reality of walking a couple thousand miles is that you wear out a lot of shoes and socks. I went through 8 pairs of shoes and maybe 20 pairs of socks. I learned a lot about quality, cost, and fiber blends and their impact on performance. Cheap socks with sloppy seams wear out quickly, and give you blisters. Socks with a mix of natural fibers are less likely to hold on to odors, and wool socks will keep your feet warm, even when wet.”
After completing the adventure and earning his degree, Evan again embarked on a journey abroad. Traveling in western and central Europe, he took bike tours of different cities and enjoyed the simplicity of the travel experience. Seeing an opportunity upon moving to Portland after his trip, Evan realized that no one was offering bike tours of Portland and that this would be a great way to combine the guiding skills that he had honed during his outdoor guide training and a love for cycling.
“I started the bike tour company in 2008 and we had steady growth in the first few years that allowed me to move to a storefront. My first location was inside an old commercial fish freezer with no windows, bathroom, or heat—just a roll-up garage door facing the street—so I was excited to upgrade.
“I learned a lot about running a business those first few years and the curve was sharp. I joined a group of other entrepreneurs and we started talking about business experiences to help each other grow. One of the topics I loved to discuss was about the confidence that I experienced while being a business owner. I had become less attached to the specific business I was running, and felt like I could start any business I wanted. For an example I would say: ‘The bike tour company is great, but I feel like I could sell anything, even socks!’ It was really just a joke, something random that I had a bit of experience in.”
As the bike shop expanded, they started selling more t-shirts, rain jackets, and then a few cycling socks. Their customers started requesting more sock options and Ross saw an opportunity to make room for a larger selection. He liked the idea of the socks as gift items for the holidays, and as a way to help them stay afloat in the winter when their bike tours and rentals were slow. The storefront has two front doors so he decided to take advantage and use one for a pop-up sock store—Sock Hop.
“That's how it all got started. Now we have the e-commerce site where we sell socks, and a robust selection at the store. We've started to roll out custom designs that we are having made for us. I love how excited our customers get when they see a sock that strikes their fancy, and curating our Instagram has been a lot of fun, too.”
Now when people ask Evan: why socks? He's got a simple answer with a grin.
“Why not? everybody likes socks!”