While every entrepreneur wants to put his best foot forward when launching his business, Cody and Sage Disch of Hopewell put both feet, along with ankles and calves, into their start-up effort. The Disch brothers’ product is socks — just socks for now — and they are a growing presence in a segment of the fashion industry that’s making great strides.
The idea of getting a leg up in the business world through socks came to them while Cody, a Syracuse University alumnus, was studying at Brooklyn Law School and Sage, who had been named best dressed in the Class of 2009 at the Lawrenceville School, was an undergraduate at Haverford. The brothers realized that neckties were gradually disappearing from the business wardrobe, but colorful socks were beginning to brighten the look in the casual business office.
“We saw that the sock was starting to evolve from commodity product to something that was a lot more expressive,” Sage said in a recent interview with his hometown newspaper, the Hopewell Express. “Guys who have a very limited capability to express themselves in terms of fashion and style now have this option to have a little bit of creativity and personality in their day-to-day wardrobe.”
After a kickstarter campaign raised $29,000, the brothers designed and commissioned the creation of their first sock. They got help from several Princeton-area investors and from TigerLabs, the Nassau Street-based accelerator program. The incubator and its founder, Bert Navarrete, became “a valued adviser as we continue to scale our company. Their perspective and startup experience around strategy, finance, and legal is a tremendous asset,” said Sage.
While the brothers decided to locate their fulfillment center in Hopewell, they realized that their business operation needed to be in New York. They have settled in Manhattan’s West Village, with an office in SoHo. The now two-year-old company is called Ace & Everett, named after their grandfather, Raymond Everett “Ace” Disch Sr., who ran a construction company in Carney, New Jersey, and who is remembered by the grandsons as a man of considerable style.
The brothers’ parents, Ray Disch Jr. and Erica Disch, no doubt exposed the boys to the entrepreneurial lifestyle at an early age. The Disches lobbied for the legislation that would permit brew pubs in New Jersey and then founded Triumph Brewing on Nassau Street in Princeton. More recently Ray Disch has been involved with Total Home Manager, the Hopewell-based residential real estate service, maintenance, and management firm, and Sourland Mountain Spirits, the new distillery opening soon adjacent to the Brick Farm Tavern in Hopewell. Erica Disch helps out with the Sourland Mountain Spirits start-up, and also teaches Spanish in the Montgomery school district.
Cody and Sage Disch are differentiating their socks by concentrating on their graphic design, often following themes based on architectural landmarks in New York. They have employed some creative marketing schemes to raise awareness of their brand. Among them: Partnering with Humza Deas, a New York photographer famous for breathtaking shots from the top of Manhattan skyscrapers, often with his legs dangling over the edge of the building. The Disch brothers outfitted him with socks for those shots, and also created a pair in his honor, the Humzilla.
They also commissioned Deas to photograph the company’s “100 Man March,” in which 100 20-something guys went bar crawling through SoHo wearing blazers, dress shirts, and white underwear, but without trousers and with very visible Ace & Everett socks.
As unorthodox as those marketing campaigns may seem, the start-up company’s course has stayed “pretty true to plan,” said Cody. If the brothers had one thing to do over, it might be keeping their efforts more focused. “There were a couple of times we probably tried to do too much at one time,” said Sage. “Our best progress came when the entire team was focused.”
Ace & Everett now offers an online sales program, along with product in stores in 11 states (including Nick Hilton clothing on Witherspoon Street), as well as Ontario and Puerto Rico. The firm’s Supima cotton socks retail for $26, and the Merino wool socks are priced at $34. “In the scale of socks we are high end,” said Sage.
Asked if there were one thing that would take the fledgling enterprise to a higher level, the brothers said getting listed as a sock purveyor at the online fashion website MrPorter.com. That site offers some understanding of the competitive waters in which the brothers are swimming. MrPorter.com carries lines in six different categories of socks. In the patterned category, where Ace & Everett might fit in, there are 90 items currently listed, ranging in price from a three-pack for $70 to a single pair of Gucci embroidered striped stretch cotton blend socks for $155.
The Disch brothers are not daunted by the plethora of competing products standing in their way. They compare socks to sneakers, once a commodity product, which then evolved into a lifestyle product driven by design, and which now have reached the point where the most popular sneakers are considered pieces of art.. “From Day 1 I’ve seen socks following in the sneaker trajectory,” said Cody.
Even though the brothers vow to remain “laser focused” on socks for the next year or two, don’t dismiss their venture as just a sock company. As Sage told a reporter for “The Hustle,” an online marketing magazine. “We are a brand that chose socks as our first medium of interaction with the world.”
Ace & Everett, 175 Varick Street, Suite 644, New York, NY 10014. www.aceandeverett.com.