There’s an interesting article over at Fast Company on The Inevitability of $300 Socks, which talks about the formerly incredible notion of paying $300 for jeans. Remember when $50 jeans were “designer”? The authors, Dan and Chip Heath, argue that luxury is not simply about projecting social status or class, but about displaying appreciation for certain finer things, creating a sense of personal luxury that might involve wearing $300 jeans with a cheap t-shirt. I’m not sure if I agree with the premise– no one has been able to convince me that $300 jeans are in any way better than their cheaper brethren, unless you feel the need to advertise, to those who are in the know, that you are wearing $300 jeans. In some ways, the simple display of wealth is too common to be a meaningful conveyor of taste. So many people have Luis Vuitton handbags– so what’s the point? Status must now involve more than simple spending power, it must indicate appreciation or affinity for a certain type of fashion, “lifestyle”, or somewhat exclusive club.
Which brings us to the socks. The authors write: “Yes, we all know that no one in their right mind would ever pay $300 for socks. But having a right mind is so yesterday.” So, starting from the price point, how would we create and market such expensive socks? The article notes: “V.K. Nagrani, a designer of high-end men’s socks that retail for about $35, believes socks are a signal of intimacy. Think about it: In a formal situation, you’ll rarely see someone’s socks.” So you need people to be able to take off their shoes, or at least put them on their desks, to display their trophies. This could be in a country club locker room, in many homes, particularly in Asia, or after a date. Assuming you give people the chance to show off their fancy footwear, what would they show off? Catchy designs, with high-end materials, most likely. A distinctive pattern on the side and/or the bottom of the foot to let people know “yes, these really are those $300 socks.” Of course, you should make them really, really comfortable. Make them socks for business people, but design them like athletic socks with cushy bottoms, heels, and other places that might rub, but thinner material on the sides so your feet can breathe better. Perhaps make them easy to wash and dry in a hotel. Pitch them to executives, sales people, business people who spend a lot of time in nice shoes and on their feet. How much is it worth to them to have their feet feel less tired at the end of the day? Next, guarantee the socks for life. If you buy these socks, and 5 years from now they’re worn out, come in for a brand new pair. That not only directly increases the value, it also provides an interesting story, and a chance to re-engage with customers. The interest earnings should easily pay for the new socks, anyway.
Anyone have any better ideas? If anyone can sell these successfully at retail, I’ll buy a pair, just to wear them to pricing conferences. Then I can start my talk with “how many of you think you sell a commodity with no pricing power? How much do you pay for socks? What if you could charge 30 times the going rate?”