Sam Talkington first noticed them on the basketball court.
The 2006 Lewis and Clark High School graduate is now a student at the University of Washington, and a part-time referee.
“To earn a bit of extra money, I reffed basketball and I saw more and more kids wearing Strideline socks,” Talkington said. “The Seattle skyline caught my eye.”
He looked the company up on the Internet and discovered its founders were two fellow UW business students, Riley Goodman and Jake Director. The pair, friends since childhood, had come up with the idea to create colorful, stylized crew socks featuring the Seattle skyline, while seniors in high school.
Four years later, Strideline has taken off. Dubbed the “new crew,” the socks gained national attention in January when Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch wore a pair during a game against the Atlanta Falcons.
“I reached out to Jake and Riley and was excited to hear their story,” Talkington said. “This is a really cool concept.”
It was one he wanted to be part of.
Talkington, 24, grew up in Spokane and joined the Army right after high school. In 2007, he was severely injured by an explosive projectile while working as a gunner on a Humvee. After four years, two deployments and one Purple Heart, he was ready to tackle a new challenge and enrolled at the UW with business on his mind. The socks that caught his eye also captured his entrepreneurial imagination.
“I knew these would work well in Spokane,” he said. “We’re a big sports town.”
But Strideline’s founders had their hands full. The success of the Seattle socks led to the launch of Los Angeles, St. Louis and New York City socks, among others. “They told me we’ll supply the socks, you pick the colors and everything else – it’s up to you,” Talkington said. “It’s pretty much my own franchise.”
He hired a graphic artist who came up with a distinctive Spokane skyline incorporating the Monroe Street Bridge, the Pavilion, and the Clocktower. The socks come in 12 color combos including Gonzaga University, Washington State University, Spokane Shock and Lewis and Clark colors.
The first batch arrived just in time for the Bloomsday tradeshow. It turns out Talkington was right about the Spokane sock market. His distinctive product proved wildly popular with the younger set. “A lot of my sales were to moms with cellphones saying, ‘I was sent here to get these.’ We sold 800 pairs our first month.” The socks sell for $12.95 a pair.
Now he’s gearing up for Hoopfest. As someone who’s participated in the event for nine years, he was confident the socks would sell well, but he ran into a snag. “Nike is a main sponsor, and we’re in direct competition.”
Undaunted, Strideline Spokane sponsored a court and Talkington scouted around for a nearby venue. He found a place at River Park Square. With 2,400 pairs of socks ready to roll from his Tacoma home, he hopes to make even more Spokane feet happy.
He’s already been approached by Kimmel Athletic Supply and plans to have Strideline Spokane socks available in several area retail outlets by August.
“It’s exciting for me,” he said. “This is my first business venture.”
In fact, it just may change his future. Talkington, a finance major, had planned a career in investment banking. Now he’s not so sure. He said, “This entrepreneurial stuff gets in your blood.”