Paire – P A I R E – is a sock brand that is all about comfort and sustainability. Friends, Nathan and Rex set about reinventing sock functionality to address frustrating experiences with smelly, sweaty, slippy foot underwear and the results have bagged them five star reviews, angel investment and revenue doubling year on year. Their range has now expanded to include t-shirts, towels and loungewear. In this chat Nathan and Rex give us a fascinating window into the world of fabric technology, advice on how a Shopify site can be anything but standard and some sobering insights from their lived experience as Asian Australian founders.
“After a couple of days we got a call from him saying, best socks ever, do you need any investment?”Rex Zhang
Challenging socks[Rex] “Two reasons why your feet smell. One is because your feet are sweating and there is bacteria growing. So to solve these problems basically in a sustainable way is actually combining wool and cotton. So wool is antibacterial and cotton is moisture wicking. It sounds like a very simple and easy solution, but the reason why other brands are not doing it is because wool and cotton are very different fibres. To combine them at a yarn level and getting the yarn thin enough to knit into socks is extremely difficult.
And another interesting find was the reason why socks are slippery is simply because most of the socks are knitted at a 120 degree angle, but your foot is 90 degrees. So it turns out no one is questioning and trying to adjust the sock knitting machine, because the machine has been set at a 120 degree angle forever. So when we developed Paire socks, we actually requested the factory to actually adjust the machine to different settings. So it’s capable of knitting 90 degree socks.”
Customise the standard[Nathan] “It’s pretty much completely custom to answer in short. We did approach the design of the website with a lot of effort. I’ve been trying to balance the functionality, conversion rate, performance of the website with aesthetics on the other side. And we work with a tech agency at the same time to build out the very custom codes and templates ourselves. We don’t really use any off-the-shelf templates with our Shopify theme.
The first version of our website, we had a really unique homepage, which we don’t use anymore now. But that was a non-negotiable design that we really wanted. Because the main reason for going fully custom is because we don’t want to look like any other Shopify store anymore. Anyone who works in the industry, they will tell us like, hey, how did you build your website? It doesn’t look like a Shopify store.
We manage our site speed with very detailed work in the codes. We try to find smart ways to get around it. But at the end of the day, it’s still Shopify because Shopify still gives us the most flexibility with different apps. But. It’s a balance between tech efficiency and what you want to achieve as a website.”
Lived experience[Nathan] “Unfortunately, I think both Rex and I felt that there’s a constant need to work harder as Asian founders to get approval from other business parties or collaborators or industry people. They tend to not take you as seriously as a non-Asian founder, let’s say. There’s a lot of small examples, I guess it’s very unconscious bias or subtle racism that goes on. Sometimes we’ll go to conferences and it’s a lot harder for us to break ice. It’s a lot harder to really have a conversation with people, they tend to just gather in their own group and comfort zone rather than talking to us. I’ll say they might pronounce your names wrong, they might just forget about you, etc. It’s a lot harder to pitch as well, I’d say. Rex will probably have more experience to share because he works on the wholesale side. [Rex] Yeah. Actually, I consider myself a pretty good salesman. Before Paire, I was the number one BMW sales consultant in Australia. So I sold a lot of cars before. I was always confident in selling stuff. But when we started wholesale, knocking on the doors, it was quite hard, more so than I expected. I don’t want to think that’s probably a race thing, but then we changed to a different person, a different face to approach very similar stores, immediately it improved the result. So yeah, skill-wise, I don’t think I can lose to any salesman. But it’s actually happened. So, I think, we have to show doubling the number to get the similar result, similar attention. That’s the reality. So well, we just need to work harder, I think.”
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