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Thomas Jakobson - Pulling our socks up

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    Rob Filler

Fashion label Thomas Jakobson has set out on a sartorial quest: to ensure that our ankles are well-dressed. The man behind this idea is designer and sock lover Thomas Gfeller. Thanks to support from Creative Hub, his business has set off on the right foot.

Socks as a business? One hesitates briefly before giving a nod of approval. The nod that signalises that a new start-up idea has legs: Yes, of course, this could go far! In the case of socks, one needs a moment longer. But the prejudices surely stem from one’s own “sock culture”, or lack thereof: Popping in to the supermarket and getting a cheap 3‑pack for 10 francs...

Thomas Gfeller has set out to change precisely that. Our sock consciousness, our sock conscience. He wants to get us thinking about this apparently unimportant item of clothing. And his attitude extends to more than socks: “It is a wonderful feeling to leave the house well-dressed. This includes having everything coordinated: shirt, jumper, scarf. And yes, your socks, as well.”

He began developing his fashion sense at the age of 11, when he found it boring to wear the same shoes as everyone else – so he put on red ones. And he felt good making this conscious little statement, down there at his feet. Soon, he added socks to his style arsenal: in specific colours, or sometimes with a funny pattern. Today, he owns close to 300 pairs.

Gfeller explains the attraction: “What’s special about socks is that you don’t always see them. But then, for brief moments, like when you’re sitting down, they make their appearance. And then you notice who is really paying attention to what they wear. I enjoy that. And I meet more and more people who also enjoy that. Both at the office and after work.”

His passion has now become his profession, as well. Gfeller originally dreamed of being an actor (“the next Brad Pitt”), but became a schoolteacher instead. For two years, he toured around the canton of Berne as a substitute primary-school teacher, before deciding to make a radical change: studying product and industrial design, with a focus on style & design, at the School of Art and Design (ZHdK) in Zurich. The perfect programme for Gfeller, since it combines everything he loves: aesthetics, design and fashion. During his course of studies, he already laid the foundation for his current business. This included two semesters abroad studying integrated design at University of the Arts (HfK) in Bremen, Germany. “I signed up for all the fashion courses, learned to sew, knit and crochet, and created my first complete men’s collection, including the shop-window displays and fashion shows.”

Back in Zurich, Thomas Gfeller worked on his Bachelor’s project. And here his new sock idea was about to enter the spotlight, in a novel combination: together with a bow-tie. Matching in colour and pattern, the “Twinset” took the stage. It not only marked the successful completion of Thomas Gfeller’s degree, but also received attention at the Berner Design Preis (Berne Design Award) in 2016 – and launched his business.

Gfeller continues: “At Thomas Jakobson, we’re not only interested in design, we consider the whole picture: the thread, the textiles, the manufacturing process – everything is produced sustainably, in the very highest quality and 100% in Switzerland!” Gfeller’s line of socks is manufactured in Eastern Switzerland, by the last remaining Swiss sock factory. “It was an indescribably joyful moment when the first pairs came out of the machine.” Today it’s nearly 2,000 pairs per season, sold in 18 brick-and-mortar stores and 5 online shops, including his own.

Gfeller credits two factors with bringing him this far: First of all, a pair of successful crowdfunding campaigns. And second, start-up support from Creative Hub. During the six-month “Creative Committed” workshop, Gfeller realised many things: What it takes to launch a label, what resources he needs to tap into, how to create business and marketing plans. “I had already read up on a lot and often acted intuitively, but the workshop was a huge enrichment nonetheless: It gave me a great overview and excellent instructions. And you not only get advice from the coaches, but also from other participants. For example, one said I should add ‘yoga socks’ to my collection!” 

But Gfeller will not implement everything that is feasible: “I want to grow with quality and not at any cost.” In future, a collection is planned that will feature perfectly coordinated socks, shirts and hats.

We can only nod in agreement, right?

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