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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Future Stitch’s Seamless Plan

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When Taylor Shupe co-founded Stance Inc. in 2009, he said people thought the San Clemente seller of distinctive-looking socks was “a bit of a joke.”

He and his Stance co-founders—Jeff Kearl, John Wilson, Ryan Kingman, and Aaron Hennings—weren’t joking: they believed that millennials and Gen Z shoppers, among many others, were looking for something unique and exciting in an often overlooked clothes category.

Shupe saw a “$40 billion category with one of the highest compounded annual growth rates out there.”

The joke was on the doubters. Stance has since become a household name in the apparel industry, serving as the official sock of the NBA among other notable partnerships.

Having expanded into other apparel types like underwear, Stance is reported to do well over $100 million a year in sales with a valuation cited around $500 million pre-pandemic.

Looking to Future

Shupe is looking to make San Clemente’s standout sock industry a matching set.

In 2017, he founded FutureStitch Inc., a sock manufacturer whose mission, he says, is to manufacture more ethically—for both the worker and the planet.

Shupe has put in about $9 million of his own money into his newest venture, which counts rapper-turned-business mogul Kanye West, or Ye (with whom Shupe has other business interests), and skateboarder-turned entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek as strategic investors and partners.

FutureStitch—which has its eyes on an overseas initial public offering in a couple years—says its approach to manufacturing is innovative, from the way its factories are built to its proprietary materials.

For example, it emphasizes that it operates the only LEED Platinum-certified manufacturing facilities in China and Turkey (see story, this page).

The company’s products, primarily socks, incorporate natural, durable materials, like Icelandic seaweed.

The San Clemente company, which counts Stance as a customer, grew sales 56% last year to $46 million.

“That’s a testament to this hypothesis of investing in workers, and an environment that fosters workplace happiness,” Shupe said of the company.

Besides Stance, FutureStitch makes socks for companies such as Toms, Crocs, and Everlane.

Oceanside Plant

Shupe expects over $50 million in sales this year, in part by increasing the company’s domestic manufacturing presence via a number of locations.

Shupe originally wanted to open a manufacturing facility in Orange County, but said he’s been priced out of the local market because of e-commerce companies driving up rental prices.

Instead, FutureStitch this month is opening a 9,000-square-foot plant about 20 miles from the company’s headquarters, in Oceanside.

The company plans to hire for the site 50 ex-incarcerated women—a demographic whose unemployment rate approaches 30%, he said.

Then, a larger plant in Dallas will open, where FutureStitch will employ hundreds of blind people—a group that faces 70% unemployment rates, he said.

Manufacturing Jobs

Shupe believes there’s still a role for apparel manufacturing in the U.S.

“It’s important for us to challenge the notion that manufacturing jobs are a thing of the past,” said Shupe, who lamented the stigma surrounding working-class jobs.

“The reason manufacturing is so amazing is the impact it makes for the middle class and jobs on the production line,” he said.

“I would love to see young entrepreneurs come into manufacturing as an industry of hope and approach it through new lenses of technology, advancing employment and safeguarding the environment. We need new energy in this old industry.”

Crocs and Socks

FutureStitch’s creative team of 15 meets at a single-story building in downtown San Clemente, where they enjoy its “homey vibe” and make salsas from the vegetables at its on-site garden.

“If we expand, we will keep this building,” Shupe, a husband and father of three, said.

“I’m all about culture in business and having a work environment that doesn’t feel like you’re working.”

New products are in the works.

By the fourth quarter, FutureStitch plans to launch a wholesale product for Crocs that even “the non-Crocs-wearer will want to wear,” he said.

Further out, Shupe said he’s looking to one day raise musk ox in Alaska for their “finer-than-cashmere” fibers. 

China Ties, IPO Plans

At age 16, Taylor Shupe started learning Mandarin from a Chinese florist he delivered for, in San Juan Capistrano. He would later study Mandarin at Brigham Young University.

Shupe put his language skills to use at San Clemente sock manufacturer FutureStitch Inc., which has its largest manufacturing facility in China; a nearly 240,000-square-foot facility near Shanghai that can create up to 50,000 socks per day, or 1.5 million socks every month.

It was designed by architect Zhang Lei, who rose to prominence for designing the Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel in Eastern China.

The facility, which opened four years ago, has earned acclaim for its environmentally friendly features. FutureStitch is said to be the first U.S.-based manufacturer in China to receive LEED Platinum certification for its facility.

The hundreds of workers at the site count a bevy of on-site amenities, including a library, basketball court, gym, and 4,000-square-foot art gallery.

“I saw factories with collapsing ceilings [in Southern China], so I created a place that would be enjoyable and foster creativity,” he said.

“Keeping people happy is a profit advantage.”

Overseas Listing

Shupe has a larger idea in store for his company in China: he wants FutureStitch to go public on the Shanghai Stock Market, as soon as 2024. A proposed valuation for the company hasn’t been disclosed.

“If this happens, I’ll be the first white guy to do something like this—that’s important to me because I believe in economic vested interest,” said Shupe, who states that in China, 80% of all stockholders are individuals, whereas in the U.S., 80% of stockholders are institutions.

There are other considerations for the overseas IPO, he said.

“Right now, we’re in a place that’s very precarious, and I don’t like it,” he said of current U.S.-China relations.

“I want our organization to tie two cultures together, facilitate trust and make an impact through our cross-Pacific relationship—the most important relationship to humankind.”

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Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp is a staff reporter and occasional photojournalist for the Orange County Business Journal. Her beats include — but are not limited to — healthcare, startups, and education. While pursuing her bachelors in literary journalism at UC Irvine, she interned for New York-based magazine Narratively Inc., wrote for Costa Mesa-based lifestyle magazine Locale, and covered the underground music scene for two SoCal-based music publications. She is an unwavering defendant of the emdash and the Oxford comma.

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