Ever since the brand’s inception by besties Viktor Tell and Mikael Sorendlindh in 2008, Stockholm-based sock connoisseurs, Happy Socks have been bringing a burst of colour to your underwear drawer with outlandish and quirky formations. Over the course of (nearly) a decade, they’ve teamed up with a multitude of artists and designers who have added their own creative touch to the brand – the likes of Snoop Dogg, Iris Apfel and Billionaire Boys Club concocting an array of zany designs.
For this season’s collaboration series the brand is paying homage to The Beatles with a six sock collection featuring cartoon characters as they appeared in the original Beatles TV show – aired throughout the 60s – they’ve also called upon international DJ Steve Aoki and tattoo artist Megan Massacre, whose dynamic and intricate skull interpretations will make an appearance on a three sock collection. If that wasn’t enough to keep Happy Socks HQ busy, and they are, very, they’re also set to launch the technicoloured Hysteria range, designed specifically for women, giving a feminine edge to the otherwise masculine read brand.
Ahead of said launches, we caught up with Creative Director Viktor Tell to talk team-ups, Stockholm, and the evolution of Hysteria.
Happy Socks has been around for nearly 10 years now. How does it feel looking back?
It’s been really crazy, but fun. I found a photograph from when we did a visa application for China, and I look so dead in my picture, the bags under my eyes! It’s been mostly good stuff, but the hard work that we put in at the beginning was crazy; the hours, the nights. The company has grown roughly 75% per year since day one, which means that every time you start a new year it’s one company, and at the end of that year it’s another company!
When you were starting out did you ever think that it would reach this level?
We put down on paper where we wanted to go and were making jokes about it all the time saying that we didn’t think it went fast enough. We had this idea that we would start selling socks online and that people would just find them, but how would people just find something that they don’t know about? That doesn’t work. We changed our heads and started thinking, “How do we sell this?” So it’s been a struggle and a journey; it didn’t just happen overnight even though it might look like it.
Did you always have an interest in sock design?
Not in sock design, but I always had an interest in design, and I always had an interest in socks. But then I saw that it was missing something. There were of course striped socks, there were some dots or whatever they were, and there were novelty socks – you could buy your Bart Simpson socks – but no one had put love in a brand from a design point when we first started. That segment did not exist, and that I think is very cool when you’re looking back just to see that prior to 2008, if you went to a sock department, there were no colourful socks, and now there are many brands doing designs and colourful socks. We created a segment and that is really cool.
With that in mind, what do you think it is about Happy Socks that sets you aside from those other companies?
I actually kind of like competitors. I have no problem with other people because together we just make the segment stronger. It’s sad when someone does a straight copy, you know, I just think it’s unnecessary, but it’s like how there’s not one shoe brand, there are many shoe brands. So it’s the same thing here, I don’t think it’s a problem. We’ve been doing this, as I said, for almost 10 years, and we’re always far ahead, and we always just do what we want to do. It’s more of a design brand than a fashion brand. We don’t follow the trends, if we feel like going one way then we just go that way, and that I think sets us aside. We take our own direction with every collection regardless of what else is going on. We just take inspiration from what we feel.
Tell me about working alongside [co-founder] Mikael?
It’s a bit of a yin and yang. Anyone who wants to start something with someone else, I recommend that you start it with someone who doesn’t do what you do. Mikael and I are different, but together we have the same mission. I could never do what he does and he could never do what I do – we’ve found each others strengths and that is the amazing part of it. I can’t really recall a time that we’ve been head to head, and not agreed on what direction to take. There are so few moments that they’re not even mentionable.
So you have quite a similar creative vision?
Yeah, which has been great. I understand that that is quite uncommon, but we really have. But the selfish part of it is that we wanted to be happy, we wanted to travel, and we wanted to have fun. With that we had to do something to keep us on the road and keep us going! We both want to do the same thing, not only design-wise or in terms of where the company is going, but in life. We explore the same path and do a lot of fun stuff.
What has been your favourite collaboration so far?
Wow! I have so many stories that are fun. I love our collaborations because we pick them, not just because of who they are, but why. The latest one we’ve done is with Steve Aoki – I’m not the biggest EDM fan, but what I am is a fan of who he is, and the pure amount of energy that he just brings to the table with what he does. I think like with Snoop, or with David Lachapelle, they are the pioneers, the frontiers, the people who think differently with what they do, and those are the fun collaborations that really stick in my head.
With Lachappelle it was like, “What do you want to shoot? What is your vision?” But then he also wanted to do a side project, he wanted to do a movie. And that movie is so weird, I think it’s online somewhere, but it’s the weirdest movie! To see the excitement when he could do whatever he wanted to do in this little noir film. Just to see him get total creative freedom was one of the best moments.
The other one that was also very fun was with Snoop, because that was the same thing. You don’t just have Snoop in front of a camera. What is his dream? What does he want to do that he hasn’t done? And he came back and said that he wanted to be Snoop da Vinci! He wanted to paint, so it was fucking obvious: let’s make Snoop paint and let’s make it an art sock with Snoop. That was amazing! It was really cool.
Oh, and Iris, I can’t forget Iris! That woman is amazing.
What was she like to work with?
I actually just met her once, but it was an awesome experience. She was so bright, and really knew what she wanted to do and how she wanted it, and then it was onto the next one! She just wanted to do more!
What do you think the benefits are of having lots of different creatives collaborating like this?
So what we have are these little cameras and these little cotton socks, and to see the different ways that people take their creativity into that is amazing. You are focused on your own thing, and you just do your own thing, but to let another creative come and put their thought into it opens up new opportunities and new ideas that you can also play with in the future. So it really helps and it’s really fun. They really go all in and it’s really exciting to see.
You’re about to launch your new Hysteria collection, tell us a little bit about that.
We started the socks as unisex designs and they still are, but we’ve also realised after 10 years that it would be stupid not to be niche in different areas. Like with the business man dress sock, we have that now because we saw that people wanted the Happy Socks design, but they didn’t want the quality we had. And we did the athletic socks because the sneaker guys wanted that, and we did the kids, but we hadn’t put our attention to the woman’s side of it.
With me and Mikael, it would be wrong if we focused on that and did that ourselves. So the girls here, they were just like, “Guys, you can’t make these socks and accept that you’re going to sell them to all women.” We were like, “No sorry, fuck no! What do you want to do?” And they worked on it, I think they’ve been working on it for two years behind the scenes to really get this thing right, and they’ve done a fantastic job. So it’s Paula running the design show, and Cilla with the production, and of course now we’ve had the experience for a couple of years, we can say little bits and tips or whatever, but it’s their show and they’ve done a fucking amazing job with it.
Now we’ve been selling to wholesalers, but they actually haven’t hit the stores yet, so we’re really excited for it to come out and for people to be able to buy them. But we’ve only had positive response so far! It’s a lot of different materials and different lengths, so it’s not an all-round sock which Happy Socks are, but more for different occasions.
So next year will be your tenth anniversary. What do you have lined up?
We’re doing a little look back at some of my personal favourite designs, and also we’re going to dig down into the archives to see all of the collaborations that we’ve done and present them again in a nice way. That’s what is going to be super fun at least for us, to look back, because we’ve done so much and to do that is going to be very fun… parties are always good too!
And for the next 10 years?
We’ve always had the same goal: even if you wear a colourful pair of socks that are not Happy Socks, we want to be a ‘Kleenex’, we want your mind to wander to us. If that happens then long after me and Mikael are gone this company will live on. That is the dream, that we have created something that will keep on growing on its own, with more creativity and fun.
Happy Socks are available now – here – from the Wonderland shop.