Gil Kahana and Humberto de Sousa met while studying MA Communication Design at Central Saint Martins. Their mission is to inject more fun into people’s lives through their characterful ChattyFeet socks.
It all started one fateful evening when they posed the question: ‘What if our socks could talk?’ They are still answering this three years later, having launched and grown a successful business, with recommendations from Vogue, the Guardian and the Huffington Post, to name but a few.
We spoke with Gil to find out how ChattyFeet transformed from an idea to the business it is today.
“Humberto and I were good friends after college. One of the great things about the MA at CSM was the international aspect of the course. I made friends from around the World!
Good ideas come with friends, when you’re comfortable with the people around you…
We were both interested in self-initiated projects. I was working in User Experience at the time, and Humberto was working as a Web Designer. I had dipped my toe in the water with a cookbook called ‘Lunch Box Revolution’ with Michiko Nitta, and I really enjoyed it, so I wanted another project to pursue. Humberto and I were at a friend’s one evening and we were joking around, when I put my foot up on the table and animated it. Somehow the idea stuck, and a few days later we created a prototype by drawing a face on a white sock to test it out, to see how it actually felt. We researched and found videos of other people animating their feet, so we knew it would be something that people would be interested in, and that people could relate to.
We then decided to take the huge step of having a sample produced, which was an adventure in itself. We found this difficult as when you are starting out, factories are reluctant to work with you unless you are getting thousands of units made. We eventually found somewhere in India to produce the sample, however this was a long and arduous task – they didn’t understand what we were doing and we wasted time and money. They couldn’t execute the quality and level of detail that we required.
So we decided to go with another producer in Turkey, but this turned out to be even more stressful – we set a launch date for the product for the 1 December 2012, and they had left it very close to the date to ship the first batch over. They sent us a picture of the product ready to be shipped, and we saw that all the labels were on the wrong way round. The biggest lesson we learnt from this is to make sure you always over-communicate with your producer!
With Start-Ups, your initial idea is a very small percentage of the whole business. What’s vital is that you have the energy and passion to take the idea forward – you need to have enough love to overcome fears from judgement, and going against the mainstream. You have to really commit to your idea – even to treat it like it’s a person. Pursuing an idea like this and setting up a business is hard work, but it also means you wake up every day with a certain essence.
As a start-up, you try and do everything yourself to save money until it really hurts, and you know the business can’t continue like that. We started off shipping everything ourselves – our busiest time was Christmas, where I would literally be carrying a big sack of socks to the post office every day… This eventually became too exhausting and we decided we couldn’t continue without a fulfilment partner. One benefit of doing it this way round is that you are experts on what you are then outsourcing. For example, we knew how exactly how much we should be paying for shipping.
We sold the first batch in Camden and Spitalfields markets – this gave us a real sense of how people reacted to the product. We saw people picking up the socks and laughing at them –it was really nice to see. However, we learnt that the market on the street is too wide, we knew we had to go online.
We started to work with different platforms to see where our products were most successful. When you are small your website isn’t going to get you the same amount of exposure – you have to work with the bigger established companies. Notonthehighstreet.com has been our most successful sales platform – we found them to be brave and open minded about our product.
We recently collaborated with some students from ESAD, a University in Portugal. The students were given a brief to come up with a new character for the brand. We chose four designs from these which we now sell. This was a really positive experience for us – it brought us a fresh perspective and new ideas as a brand.
It took us a year and a half to understand that we are a gift brand rather than a fashion brand… People tend to buy our products to make someone else laugh… What we also discovered is that you have to take advice from people with a pinch of salt – sometimes advice can be invaluable, but sometimes it can be very dangerous. There are so many ways to get it right – you have to believe in yourself.
ChattyFeet is really successful in countries where you have to take your shoes off because this is when people can see our funny characters… We still have a lot of ground to cover in countries where it’s cold! We now have nineteen designs for adults and kids. We are hoping to expand our product range from just socks – for Chattyfeet the sky’s the limit!”
ChattyFeet is a friendly brand so feel free to get in touch with Gil and Humberto for advice and inspiration!