Nate Kogan & Hitsu Socks: Art for your feet
A pickle was what he wanted to be when he grew up. At least this is what the co-founder of Huely Socks told me in our #stmINTERVIEWED Q&A. (Update: This brand has rebranded at HITSU.) While he did not grow up to be a pickle, he did launch a kick ass sock company right here in Canada and now refers to himself as a “Sockvangelist.” Nate Kogan is one half of the crazy duo behind Huely Socks.
If you live in Toronto or just about, well any city, you undoubtedly have had the pleasure of coming across street art. Sprayed on walls, posts and all types of surfaces, street artists create works for the masses to enjoy. Huely Socks has teamed up with some of the most talented street artists in Toronto to launch their second series of socks. That’s right folks, you can now buy art to wear on your feet!
The line is available on Huely.com and is sold using the blind boxed method, which made our photo shoot for this post even more fun! Read the full #stmINTERVIEWED Q&A below to find out how Nate and his business partner Dan came to launch their company and why Huely Socks are sold via blind box.
Q – STM – As a sock lover I have to say I am intrigued by Huely Socks. The concept is brilliant! How did you get started?
A – Nate – Originally my business partner Dan reached out to me to try and take on a creative roll with an idea he had after seeing Johnny Cupcakes speak at NXNE. Dan felt that I had a similar spirit to Johnny and asked me if I wanted to be a part of something new that he was planning.
After initially working on the founder’s series we realized that it would be cool to create a new canvas for artists to create on and Huely was born.
As an artist myself it was important for me to distill the creative process into what I was making, so that’s where the idea to use artists came from. I feel it’s quite important to stand side by side with those who have created with us; they’re the best.
Q – STM – Tell me about working with Dan. What are you each responsible for when it comes to Huely?
A – Nate – I’ve known Dan for years; I find it’s pretty awesome that one of my oldest and best friends is also my business partner. I think the idea came pretty naturally. Dan wanted to try out a new venture, and wanted me to helm it creatively. Dan knew what it took to make me turn out some awesome design work for Huely and really pushed me to be better every day with it.
As a business we both take different roles. I helm a lot of the creative ideology behind Huely from series to series, and give the overall spirit and breath a face, and Dan takes care of a lot of the logistical and more business oriented matters, but that’s not to say we don’t know what the other is up to. We work extremely closely, and both take on crossover roles all the time. We love to lean, and doing a bit of everything is key to understanding what’s ahead.
Q – STM – As an artist what inspires you?
A – Nate – I am inspired greatly by patterns and loops, throughout my art career I have always been fascinated by the idea of repetitive art, and Huely is a perfect avenue to explore a creative process obsessed with patterns and the repetition. I am obsessed with loops, and I’m a little loopy myself!
Q – STM – Who had the greatest influence on you as an artist?
A – Nate – Andy Warhol is the #1 influence on my work, not so much aesthetically (the work being amazing in its own right) but more so about his ideas on art as a commodity, and the idea that art is not sacred, not timeless. I have always aligned with his ideas and consider them very influential in how I create.
Q – STM – I love that you call yourself a “Sockvangelist.” How did you come up with this title?
A – Nate – I am obsessed with sock design and good sock patterns. I live to tell people about this new canvas that we’ve created and show that artists can take their styles and ideas and apply them to something functional that makes a statement about who they are to the world.
Huely is an extension of all of my mantras as an artist and so I choose to be a ‘sockvangelist’ to spread the word on what it is that we’re doing. I am deeply passionate about making the world’s best socks, and becoming the world’s best sock designer.
Q – STM – How did you come to name your brand Huely?
A – Nate – The name comes from one of the characteristics of colour (hue), it also rolls off the tongue well. Also it’s my unofficial middle name now.
Q – STM – You have worked with an amazing roster of artists. What were their reactions when you approached them and told them you wanted to collaborate and make of all things, socks?
A – Nate – We’re proud of the artists that have collaborated with us and those who we are working with right now! We reach out to them with the idea that they can take their work and style and apply it to something new and exciting. Artists LOVE being challenged to take their work to a different level.
The response has been great because we offer a lot of support to the people we choose to work with, and look at things very closely to ensure that their ideas are realized into a sock that is awesome to look at and works well on the foot.
They’re always excited to see the final result.
Q – STM – When working with artists who are used to creating on flat surfaces, what are some of the challenges when it came to designing art for socks?
A – Nate – When we first contact artists to work on a sock design we’re very mindful of explaining to them the ins and outs of the entire process. There are some limitations and things to be aware of when working with thread as opposed to paint/ink/etc… so we work hand in hand to explain the process so that the artists can get their vision directly onto our socks.
Q – STM – How did you decide to use the blind box method to retail your product?
A – Nate – Blind boxing was something that we decided to do early on when we were in the concept stages of what Huely would end up becoming. We knew that we would be working with all of these amazing artists but we also knew that if people were to have a choice they would always go for their favorite artist all the time. We decided that we would blind box the socks as a curatorial tool, we stand by the work of every artist we’ve collaborated with and LOVE surprising people, one of our core values is surprises, so it just works so well with blind boxing.
We have had an incredible response to this idea and people keep coming back for more. We even have a few serious collectors of the various series who are all about what we offer.
Q – STM – As a fashion entrepreneur what were some of the challenges you encountered while launching your brand?
This was my first go at anything fashion related so there was a big learning curve with how these things work; from learning how manufacturers operate in terms of time lines, to the limitations and quirks of making stitched goods as opposed to prints, every day I am trying to learn more and more and refine our processes.
I’ve also learned a lot about seasonality, when things should be ready for, and how far ahead we have to be in terms of our production pipeline to make sure everything is done in a timely manner.
The key to building a brand like Huely though has been learning how to work better with people in creating a unified vision for a brand, which is key to creating a voice that stands out from the rest of the pack. I am always excited about everything we do here and the learning that it brings with it.
Q – STM – You have clearly worked hard to keep this a truly Canadian company and produce your product right here in Canada. Why is this so important to you?
A – Nate – We’re very proud of being a Canadian company that makes our product right here in Canada. It’s very important for myself and Huely to show respect for the work these artists do for us, and keep things premium by making sure we are producing our product in Canada; we don’t believe in cutting corners, we only believe in premium well made socks, so we choose to stay here and do it fully in our own backyard.
Canadian products are amazing in quality and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q – STM – Besides socks, what is your favourite wardrobe element?
Personally I am partial to awesome weird graphic Ts and sneakers. I love anything urban culture and bright. When I create Huelys I am always thinking of how they would look as part of a very bright wardrobe and how loud they can be while still retaining coolness.
Q – STM – Where do you see Huely in five years?
A – Nate – In five years I want us to be have set a standard for what artists can do with socks as a canvas, and to be sold internationally. I hope by that point I can also have a viking boat to sail into various ports and have lavish parties with many bikini clad women while I sit on my viking throne.
Q – STM – One of our sister sites is fashion illustration site Draw A Dot. If illustrators are interested in collaborating with you, what should they do?
A – Nate – I love to hear from artists and see if they would be a fit for us! They can hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org with art work, questions, love letters, fan fiction, and drawings.
Q – STM – When it comes to fashion and style, what is your motto?
A – Nate – Less is more, wear only socks.
Q – STM – Last question, give me one random fact about yourself.
A – Nate – I defeated Godzilla in the 1994 world pizza championships. (photo above.)
While we think Nate is pretty awesome, we don’t believe he defeated Godzilla in the 1994 world pizza championships. First off, Godzilla did not compete that year and secondly is rumoured to have issues with gluten, but our intern Sarah had a hard time fact checking. Nevertheless, Huely Socks is a brand set to grow. We love that they combine art and fashion and do it all here in Canada. Make sure to follow HITSU on Instagram and Twitter.