Editorial Feature: Vanity Socks
Vanity socks is the go-to website for sock aficionados and this week, they take an in-depth look at Fortis Green's crowdfunding origins and our brand's vision for the future.
Fortis Green created the next generation of luxury socks.
Founder Ray Willmoth told us about their fantastic story, the successful Kickstarter campaign, and explained what men are looking for when they buy funky luxury socks…
How did you get into the fashion industry?
I studied business and marketing in New Zealand before moving to London in 2004.
I began my career as a fashion buyer with a temporary position working in the women’s handbag buying department in Debenhams.
I did the job and I thoroughly enjoyed it; at times it felt like the movie, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. At the end of the first two weeks they asked me to stay for another week. At the end of that week they said “Listen we really enjoy having you here, would you like to join our trainee buyer program?”
At first I didn’t realise how lucky I was, but it soon became apparent that a lot of what the job entailed related strongly back to my marketing background. After 3 months I moved into the menswear department where I was responsible for men’s accessories including underwear, belts, hats, gloves, scarves, ties, bags and of course socks.
That position gave me a really good insight into product development and I also made a lot of factory contacts. I eventually moved to Arcadia to be their footwear buyer and then following that, to Jermyn Street based menswear brand Charles Tyrwhitt. As part of my position in footwear, I was also responsible for developing the company’s collection of socks.
What made you move from London?
I grew up in New Zealand and I got to the stage in my life where I loved living in London and I loved my job but after nearly a decade on the opposite side of the world, I wanted to be closer to my family. Basing myself in Australia and specifically in Melbourne seemed the logical choice. Melbourne is a beautiful city; there’s a lot of culture and history here. It’s also a proudly creative city. There’s a level of independent brand and retail entrepreneurship in Melbourne that’s hard to find in the UK.
I feel like I’ve landed on my feet here.
Did you start Fortis Green right after your move?
When I moved to Melbourne I had already formulated the idea of starting up my own men’s accessories brand. I had really enjoyed my previous roles working on sock development and I knew of the perfect factory just outside of Braga, Portugal. As soon as I relocated to Melbourne I contacted them and they said they would be happy to work with me. This is when I started officially developing Fortis Green’s sock range.
It’s been a year to get where we are now - having recently released our first collection of luxury men’s dress socks onto the market. It’s just been a fantastic ride, beginning with our successful crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter at the beginning of this year. We sold a thousand pairs during the 30 day campaign and we were able to use that money to buy an additional 3000 pairs. We found that the idea of taking a dress sock and explaining how we would perfect every individual component, making each aspect, whether it be design, materials or construction method the best it could be, really resonated with people.
The final product was delivered to us in the first week of June. What’s been really exciting for me is how many of our Kickstarter backers are not only giving us fantastic feedback, but are now coming back to buy more.
Why do you like working with socks?
I’ve worked with many product categories over the past decade. As a designer and a product developer, socks are pretty much the most creative area in menswear that you can work in. I actually love socks because the possibilities are endless in terms of the patterns and the color combinations that you can use (not to mention materials). When my samples are delivered and I open the box, it’s just the most exciting thing in the world.
What is it that you want to give to the modern man?
My feeling is that the men’s sock market at the moment is still somewhat polarized. On one hand you’ve got multiple brands relying on colour and design to sell their product, but the materials and the construction are inferior – it’s throwaway “fast fashion”. The other extreme of the market are the high end luxury sock brands whose styling is very classic and understated.
Fortis Green socks are unique as they’re unsurpassed in terms of construction and materials, while on the flip-side, we are also unapologetically bold in terms of colour and design. We want to be a vehicle for men to really express their personality without compromising on quality.
What do you think people are looking for when they are buying socks for men?
This is a question we are constantly asking ourselves. The market Fortis Green is now operating in is one we describe in-house as ‘commonsense luxury’. Our customer is generally over 35 – a guy who appreciates quality and wants to buy something that will last. He’s not interested in fast moving fashion trends per se. The Fortis Green man wants to be able to express his character, even if he’s forced to wear a suit to the office. These are the men who really appreciate the extra thought we have put into our sock’s construction, especially the reinforced heel and toe (we often hear from men complaining their other brands of socks almost immediately develop holes), the extra inch on our leg length which eliminates displaying bare leg when they sit down and trouser legs ride up, and the softer single ribbed welt that doesn’t fall down.
The other big market is of course the gift market. We see a lot of women (and men) who would like to see their partners have a bit more fun with their look.
Tell me about your design process, how do you stay fresh?
The Art Deco posters Fortis Green have used as inspiration for our first season collection all centre on the themes of transportation, adventure and travel. We’re celebrating an era that embraced modernism, bold colour and a spirit for design that included the introduction of geometric patterns such as chevron stripes, checks and dots.
Our design story has really connected with our customers and we plan to carry this concept forward. To our knowledge it’s something that no other sock company is doing.
For our next season we are looking exploring a series of artworks from the school of Geometric Abstraction. This hard edge design style developed in France during the 1920s, manifesting itself as the underlying principle of the Art Deco style. We are currently in the sampling process and we’re thrilled with the strength of the designs so far.
Where does the name Fortis Green come from?
While working in London I resided in Muswell Hill and I instantly fell in love with it. It’s up very high, you’ve got beautiful views and all the streets are very steep… it’s a beautiful area, and the street I lived on was Fortis Green. That period of my life is so important to me as it was during this time that I gained all the skills I needed in order to bring my brand ‘Fortis Green Apparel’ into fruition. I wanted to honour that in a way.
See the full interview HERE