It's here, in the San Juan Capistrano-based Richer Poorer offices, that some of the most design-focused products in our industry are conceptualized. The creative design and production of Richer Poorer, the basics-focused lifestyle brand and its women's athletic line of performance socks, Pointe Studio, are all handled in this location.
Richer Poorer has an in-house photographer on staff, and for a company of their size, that's a bit unique. The brand also has a photo studio on site, making it a point to shoot all of their content from base. It's this attention to detail, and willingness to put in the extra work, that helps Richer Poorer stand out.
Throughout the 3,500 sq. ft. office space, there are brand tenants plastered on the walls. These tenants, "Elevate everyday," and "Honest Hustle," are what drive the company. "'Elevate everyday' is the concept of everyday, how do you get up in the morning and make a difference?" says Tim Morse, co-founder of Richer Poorer. “The concept 'If you feel good, you are good' is really important here.
‘Honest Hustle’ is our second brand tenant, so it's about doing things with integrity. We want to do good, honest business. And it's no secret that life isn't easy, and everybody has some sort of hustle. What are you doing in your everyday life that we can effect, whether it’s through product, whether it’s through conversation, whether it’s through content.”
That attention to staying grounded and working hard shows. The staff of 26 employees has been incredibly busy in the last year. Richer Poorer doubled their headcount in 2016, and expanded their office space to reflect that. "We've spent an extra amount of time on just trying to find the right people, it's really important. We're pushing them hard."
Alongside additional staff, there's now a product showroom built into the office, where the brand's “innerwear” story can be told. Tim says of the space, "When you have socks, T-shirts, boxers, it's a bit easier to tell this comprehensive story of innerwear visually, and so we wanted to create a space where it felt like somebody was walking into our world a little bit.
We have a high attention to design, and quality and I think hopefully that message is conveyed in a space like this. We built a little bar here so people can come in, grab a cocktail or a beer, you know, feel at home. So this has been a really cool space for us."
TransWorld Business sat down with Tim Morse to discuss the intricacies of his brand, its progressive way of thinking about the traditional retail model, and what we can expect from the brand in the new year.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you decide to expand your product offering beyond socks?
Since 2010, when we originally launched with socks, the goal was always to build a brand that had the ability to support other categories. That's why we didn't include "socks" in the name of the company. We wanted to build a name that could actually support if someday we decided to expand.
The opportunity that we specifically saw was with socks—we were coming off the economic downturn of 2007, people still didn't have the disposable income that they had had prior, but still had the appetite to consume and purchase, and wanted to update their outfit.
For $12 they could walk into a store, buy a pair of socks, they could wear their $40 Levis, their $10 Haines white T-shirt, roll up their pants, throw their Converse on, and they could look pretty fresh. I think that our success was attributed a lot to the timing, from an economics perspective and just a trend of socks generally, and then 2 years later we launched into boxers, and didn't necessarily see that explosive growth.
It wasn't until we actually launched T-shirts that boxers made sense, which was interesting. The growth in boxers since we launched T-shirts has been up triple digits because we can now tell this innerwear story, which is your favorite everyday basics. Socks, boxers, T-shirts—we want to own your top drawer.
In the beginning, we were strategic, and so focused on pillars of quality and design that it appealed to that kind of high-end, contemporary market, and if it appeals to that market, it's going to appeal to all markets. Anybody that has that appreciation for quality product, and for design, should like the Richer Poorer message.
A portion of Richer Poorer products are manufactured in the US. Does the US manufacturing carry across all three categories?
The original intent was when we started the company to make everything in the US. We quickly found out there are limitations to US manufacturing, specifically around socks. You can get most anything else made in the US, in LA, but because socks are made on these really specialized machines, a lot of them got off-shored when the hosiery manufacturing got off-shored in the ’60s or ’70s.
There aren’t a lot of factories here in the US that actually are still evolving to new fabrications, and they're kind of limping through with old machines. Our goal, whenever we step into a new category, is can we get it made here? T-shirts, for example, all made in the US. We get them all made in LA and the nice thing is we're supporting US manufacturing,
Your brand has a unique take on "responsive retail." Can you break that down?
As a brand, what we're trying to do is, we're actually launching product online, before we take it into the wholesale channel. For example, last year when we launched men's T-shirts, we put them online in December. The reason we put them online was to build some demand in the market, and to get some information back from consumers. By the time we take that product into the wholesale channel and the trade shows in January, we have a lot of information that we can deliver to the retailer.
We understand that there's all kinds of challenges and doom and gloom in retail right now, and our focus right now is to be part of the solution and bring things to the table that will hopefully have a positive impact on retail.
“Socks, boxers, T-shirts—we want to own your top drawer.”—Tim Morse, Richer Poorer
The data that we can get from having online access to what we're selling best, we can pass through to the retailer and help inform them on what products and categories and colorways might be more successful. It's really hard to work in a responsive environment, and I think we're one of the first brands to start thinking this way, similar to how technology companies have done it.
How does this responsive model relate to innerwear?
As we look at telling this innerwear story, it's kind of like "what's next?" We're listening to our retailers, we're listening to our consumers, and to what we are we seeing in the market. We're trying to focus on how people are dressing today. We're not focusing on what the runway says a year and a half from now.
The next categories that we're stepping into include launching men's sweats for Holiday, and a category for women, which all the girls are excited about— we're launching bralettes. Our Holiday Campaign is all about gift giving. It's focusing on maximizing the comfort of giving a gift, which can be challenging at times, and the comfort of the gifts you choose to give, like our sweats.
We're going to do this responsive model where we launch it online—so we're launching this french terry sweatshirt and sweat pant in 2 color ways online, we're going to get access to a lot of really good information through that selling period, and then we'll bring that to the tradeshows in January, and offer that to all of our wholesalers in an at-once environment.
How long is that sell-through period?
The sweats will be available online 11/16, and then we'll have a period of six weeks selling at the peak selling season before the January tradeshows start. We do a tremendous amount of online business in that time, and plus we have a full marketing campaign coming behind those sweats. It's just kind of changing this mindset.
I think retailers are getting more accustomed to ordering something on a Monday and it delivers by Friday, sell through the weekend and then they hit us back up on a Monday, and all of us being a little bit more nimble that way.
We need a really healthy wholesale ecosystem. I'm a firm believer in that. We also know that some of the retail is going online, so you have a big direct to consumer play there. But it's not a zero-sum conversation. You have to have both, and I think for us it's how do we tell the story online, and how do we make the story come to life at retail?
What's next for Richer Poorer going into 2017?
As we look to 2017, we're going to keep our eyes open to opportunities on categories that make sense for the brand. I could see us doing a hoodie sweatshirt, for example, and maybe different colorways of the sweats, and expanding that basic story. On the seasonal side of the business, we're trying to have carry-over. A grey sweatshirt can carry over from autumn-winter to spring-summer. Focusing on the content side, we're telling the story, and exploring the emotional connection with your favorite sweatshirt, with your favorite T-shirt. What is that relationship? What do you do in that, what does that mean to you? What kind of feeling does that bring when you put that on? That's where we win.
Do you feel that the sock category will continue to have that growth it did when Richer Poorer came to be?
People now are just generally, or have now been accustomed to, wearing well-designed, quality socks, and I think that now becomes the new standard. It's no longer an after-thought. That's where the bar has been set. While I think that, I don't see the growth trajectory being as steep as we've seen in the last few years. I think it will continue to grow, because of the fact that it's become an important staple in any wardrobe. It's just now a matter of paying attention to the trend within that.
We're going to continue to ride that wave, and we'll continue to focus on that category, but then it's like okay, how do we round out that story with some retail product categories? We've really tried to switch that conversation away from being just a sock company or brand, and I think that's going to be an important area for us as we move forward, focusing on being a lifestyle brand.
Do you feel that the women's category is the new frontier in terms of growth?
Yeah, I think on the sock side it is. I think that for women, socks have been very utilitarian in the past. In the fashion side, they wear them under their boots, but they're not wearing them with sandals, maybe like they are now. Or if you see some of the fashion blogs and sites, they're wearing them with high heels now, and they're coming with roll tops, and they have metallics, and there are different silhouette. There's different fabrications, and they're becoming more of like a visual staple, as opposed to just a utilitarian product that just doesn't see much light. Men picked up on that trend some years ago.
I think specifically in action sports, the women's market has been pretty beat down over the last few years, but if you talk to all of retailers, and you talk to a lot of the brands, their bright spot in all of those is the women's market. I think that the women's market is so much bigger, generally, than the men's market. There's going to be some tremendous opportunity for brands like ours to capture that audience.
What we're trying to do is tell a deeper story with our product, and we're not overly design-focused, but we want to talk through women empowerment, we want to talk through some of the things that women are dealing with, whether it's working moms and telling those stories, and what are those working moms doing in our product. Product becomes secondary, story becomes primary.
We also have Point Studio, our performance-based line of women’s socks. We saw a need and a niche in the market for a premium athletic sock brand, and if you look at the growth of studio disciplines like Pilates, and barre, and obviously yoga, it's seen pretty tremendous growth recently, and socks within those disciplines are required. Since its launch, Pointe Studio has had tremendous sell-through. We're working with a lot of those fashion and athletic retailers, and then you also have the athlesiure movement. We're seeing some cross-pollination between our contemporary women's customers and then also the Pointe Studio brand.
Having a technical aspect to a women's product is really important. The design of your socks is very fashion-forward, so how do you get the action sports woman to wear your sock?
Right. We talk about what does a woman do in her day? She gets up in the morning, maybe she goes to a yoga class. She needs a Pointe Studio sock, because she has to wear a grip sock. And then she goes to work, she'll throw on her Richer Poorer socks, and maybe she can also throw on a RP tee, if she goes to work, with a jacket. Or she can come home and she puts on a Richer Poorer T-shirt or a Richer Poorer sweatshirt. What does that woman do in her day— we want to make sure that we can accommodate each one of those things.
How does Richer Poorer stand out in such a competitive market?
For us it's focusing on design and quality. Everything we look at is asking, can we service the premium contemporary market, and can we service the action sports base, and everywhere in between? I think that's where we're focused on truly building a brand. Where we put a lot of emphasis, and where we differentiate is obviously design, quality of product, but then it's also truly building a brand, and brand awareness, and trying to tell stories.
We're trying to think a little differently as it relates to marketing, and how do you take advantage of whether it's social, whether it's paid advertising? How to you tell a really authentic story across those channels? We're certainly not perfect and doing everything right, but we're trying stuff, and that's what we're always inspiring our team to do. Don't be afraid to try. We'll fail really fast, and we'll move on. If we continue to do that, something will take hold, and we will see success.
What do you identify as Richer Poorer's fastest growing category?
The fastest growing category for us is the action sports channel, which makes sense because we were very diligent. We wanted to make sure that the timing was right and it felt natural for us to push into that market. We went into it heavily in 2016 with a lot of marketing support and building out our team.
What do you see as an area of improvement for our industry?
I think generally, there's been a lack of inspiration in the market, when you look at some of the struggles that sports have had. It's our job as a brand to inspire the consumer, and I don't think that brands have done a great job of inspiring consumers. I think it's been very flat across the board, and everybody has been so focused on the doom and gloom, and retail closures, and bankruptcies. There will always be that, it's a Darwin-istic event happening in retail right now. You have Amazon and these online partners that are affecting wholesalers business and our retail, but I think that stuff is inevitable. Out of this is going to come new opportunity. We spend a lot of time talking to retailers and saying "Listen, if you expect to open your door at 9 a.m. and close it at 7 p.m., and have somebody sit behind a cash wrap and people to walk in the store and buy something from you, you're not going to be in business. But if you create community and you give reason for people to come in, and you have conversations with them, you will be successful.'” We want to be part of the conversation and part of the solution.