Are you watching closely? Jake Director, Riley Goodman, and their team at Strideline are. Every snap of the football, every down of every play this NFL season could lead to a new design at the apparel company known for its signature socks. “If a player does a cool touchdown dance, or something noteworthy over the weekend, we can have the product ready to ship Monday morning,” says Goodman, who co-founded the startup with Director in 2009 and took it to another level as University of Washington students.
A headline-making deal announced this August brought the NFL into the fold. Strideline partnered with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and its licensing partner Fanatics to create an exclusive line of socks featuring players like wide receiver Antonio Brown, quarterback Tom Brady, and long-time supporter Marshawn Lynch—who famously wore their socks in a game several years ago and was fined by the NFL. At the time, Goodman and Director were Lavin Entrepreneurship students in the Foster School of Business. They had no idea Lynch was going to do that. Strideline now has a separate licensing deal with his Beast Mode brand.
“We never know when (the socks) are going to pop up because ultimately it’s up to the people who genuinely like the product,” says Goodman. “We don’t have a huge marketing budget. Our work with athletes (and others) has to be authentic because we are a small, rapidly growing company.”
Strideline might not exist today if it weren’t for a key moment back in college. Goodman and Director first sold socks with a “skyline” design wherever they could—out of the back of a car, at their fraternity, etc. Sales rose 600% their sophomore year and the market took notice. A “knockoff” brand appeared and threatened to derail everything. The longtime friends knew it was “now or never” to go all-in on their idea.
So, they secured loans from friends and family and got their product in Nordstrom and Zumiez. They received $25,000 in undiluted funds from the Jones + Foster Accelerator at the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and were introduced to a network of Seattle business leaders they remain connected with today. Now almost five years removed from college, Goodman says they have sold more than two million pairs of socks in 2017 and expect to double that in 2018.
“We had to become an established company to get the opportunities we have today,” said Goodman. “The University of Washington was the first place to allow us to license their brand. They showed us how. We took that knowledge and got other college licenses around the country.” Strideline would later partner with Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball, and more as they built a portfolio that impressed the NFLPA. “There was a lot of work behind-the scenes. For many years, we were referred to as just a ‘skyline sock company.’ But we never intended to be a one-trick pony. Our ambition is to build the greatest athletic apparel company on Earth.”
Goodman and Director know quality is the key. They regularly visit the factories overseas that supply the yarn for their socks, the Italian-made knitting machines that sew them together, and the premium packaging they insist on using. “We are constantly evolving and pushing the boundaries for what could be done and put into a sock.”
At the same time, they want to give back. The former UW students regularly speak with and mentor young entrepreneurs in the Lavin program and around the Seattle community. In 2018, they plan to roll-out internal initiatives to foster entrepreneurship among the young people in their company.
“We just want other people to share this dream. If we can inspire a young person to start something we feel like we’ve done our job.”