South African socks are a global hit


16 October 2015

In an attempt to beat an overseas competitor at his own game, South African entrepreneur Nicholas Haralambous built a fashion company out of colourful designer socks that are now sold in 20 countries around the world.

The Capetonian bought some brightly coloured socks some years ago. But he was not happy with either the quality or the design of the imported product. It sparked a desire to do something better, and in November 2012 he set up Nic Harry, a fashion company that creates vibrant socks and men’s accessories.

“At the moment I am having fun, adding style to men’s options, and increasing the limited range that men have in accessories,” Haralambous explained. “I like to dress men from the ground up.”

Nic Harry socks, which are made from bamboo fibres, now adorn the feet of high-profiled people, such as cricketer Herschelle Gibbs, actor Maps Maponyane, rugby player Bob Skinstad, and politician Mmusi Maimane.

How it started

Nic_Harry2 The Barbershop sock is Nic Harry’s first design. It is a hit in 10 countries. (Image: Supplied)

He had exited another business and used the money he saved to start Nic Harry socks, Haralambous told the television magazine show Top Billing. “I wanted to show South Africans that you could use a relatively small amount of money to slowly grow something of value.

“I took the $400 (±R5 000 at the time) and grew it into R30 000 within six weeks and then reinvested the money into the business for the first two years,” the 31-year-old explained.

The biggest seller is The Barbershop, which is popular in 10 countries.

Watch behind the scenes at Nic Harry’s local factory:

He mostly designed his own socks, said Haralambous. “We partner with designers about twice a year to help us with new, innovative designs. All of them are local designs. There have been five (designers) overall and we’re growing that number in 2015.”

Failing to learn

He had had nine businesses over the past 10 years, Haralambous told the British news agency, BBC. He set up his first business as a student, when he was just 19.

Despite his jump into business, he graduated with a degree in journalism, politics and philosophy from Rhodes University, in Eastern Cape. Initially using his university learning, he started out in the media at 702 Talk Radio. Over the years, Haralambous has also worked at Financial Mail, Business Day and Mail & Guardian, where he was head of the mobile division for a brief stint.

He left Mail & Guardian for a young start-up called Zoopy. Other start-ups in which he has been involved include Motribe, a mobile social network builder that he co-founded with Vincent Maher in 2010. After two years of intense work, Mxit bought Motribe.

Watch Haralambous explain how business ideas emerge:

Of the nine businesses in which he has been involved over the past decade, Motribe was the first successful one. About Nic Harry, Haralambous said: “In our first year we did sold 6 500 socks globally. In our second year we sold 66 000 pairs; this year we are on the track to do a 100 000 to 110 000 pairs.”

His philosophy is that failure means that you learn. “What a lot of entrepreneurs do is they run into a wall and stop. What good entrepreneurs do is knock the wall down and run to the next wall. That is key. It’s key that you just keep going.

“However, sometimes it really comes down to grit and determination to stay motivated in the face of relentless odds and endless problems. Either you see those problems as something to solve or as a road block. If you see roadblocks then maybe entrepreneurship isn’t for you,” he said.

His advice

Nic_Harry3 From selling 6 500 pairs of socks globally three years ago when the business started, colourful socks by Nic Harry are worn by celebrities such as Herschelle Gibbs and Maps Maponyane. In 2015, Nic Harry is aiming to sell 110 000 pairs of socks. (Image: Supplied)

He had no other formal training or education in building businesses, Haralambous said. “I don’t think you decide to become an entrepreneur. My family is filled with entrepreneurs and it’s what I realised I am best at and comfortable with. It makes me happy. So I do it!”

Trial and error was how he learned. “Build, fail, learn, and repeat. For me, that’s the only way I know how and the way it’s worked out.

“I think that the key thing is to persevere. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard to build a business of any kind, anywhere in the world so don’t think it’s going to be a breeze. You’re going to face hardship and there will be sacrifice but if you want the long-term benefit you need the short-term pain and risk.”

Nic Harry had produced about 70 different sock designs over the past three years. “Right now, in stock we probably have 65,” he said.

The company opened a dedicated shop in August, at 66 Wale Street, in Cape Town.

Source: reporter