Pride Socks: Where Encouragement is Only Two Feet Away

Interview with Rachel Smith (she/her/hers)

CEO and Founder at Pride Socks


Austin, TX – Socks. For many, it’s a love-hate relationship. At their best – a cozy cocoon of comfort! But at their worst, a single sock gone AWOL is enough to have us tearing apart our sock drawer, only to discover that little rogue sporting a big hole in the toe, indefinitely sealing its fate for an unceremonious toss into the nearest garbage bin. So what happens when your favorite sock gets a sad-yet-inevitable hole? Do you give up on it and chuck it away? Or do you exclaim, “Darn it!” And start mending?

The latter is the perfect metaphor for the journey of Rachel Smith, Pride Socks’ CEO and Founder. On the path to finding herself, she’s gone from feeling lost to being empowered by mentors that believed in her – long before she believed in herself. Now she’s embarked on a mission to repair the things that are broken in the world, and help others put their best foot forward – in more ways than one. Unraveling the yarn of her experiences, Rachel shares how her current ambitions were shaped by past hurdles, ever-motivating her to find ways to take the gifts she’s been given throughout her life and pay it forward to others.

The First Thread: From Sock to Obsession to Symbol

Rachel’s self-described “sock obsession” stems from her childhood. She grew up in Houston, TX, one of five siblings. Both of her parents were Deaf, which allowed them limited employment prospects and left the family on a tight budget. They had numerous obstacles to face as a family, including being extremely poor. As a result, recycling clothing among her siblings became the norm, and this included socks. Therefore, having a pair of matching and holeless socks was a rarity. For Rachel, having her own socks, in mint condition, was a luxury she could only dream of,  and came to symbolize a world just beyond her reach.

The Second Thread: Learning the Meaning of Pride

In high school, when Rachel was fourteen, her sister asked her to go running with her, and discovered Rachel had a talent for it. She urged her to join the cross country team. “After my first race and getting on the bus heading to my second race, my coach gave me a card. My heart was pounding as I ran to the back of the bus. I sat down, opened the card, and in it she said, ‘I am proud of you.’ To this day, I remember staring at the word proud and rereading it 527 times. It had an incredible impact on me and how I looked at myself and was able to, for the first time, know what self pride was and what it felt like.” Her coach was the one who continued to push her to believe in herself. 

“That moment of feeling my heart pound and going, ‘Oh my God, maybe I do have talent, maybe I am somebody.’ All these things came to me in that one moment. And it’s that particular moment I try to recreate for my customers in Pride Socks. That’s the feeling I want people to feel.”

The Third Thread: Coming Out to a Community of Acceptance + Inclusion

Rachel didn’t realize she was gay until her early twenties, and feels blessed in the way her friends and family rallied to support her almost immediately. “There were some challenges here and there, but overall, it was a pretty welcoming coming out. For me, when my mind settled down and I didn’t question myself all the time without understanding, it took a weight off my shoulders because I previously didn’t understand a part of me. And then when I met [my girlfriend], it put peace in my mind in one area, but then put stress in my mind in another. Because then I thought, this is a life I have to come to terms with. What does this mean for me? What does it mean to my family? What will change?”

The Fourth Thread: Teaching a New Legacy of Empowerment

“The biggest and most influential part of who I am is that I was raised in the Deaf culture. Both of my parents are deaf, which has influenced everything about me. The way I see things, the way I speak, my perspective, everything.” Raising five kids on a single income was challenging to say the least. Her dad was the breadwinner of the family, working at the Post Office for nearly forty years. “We were very fortunate because not all deaf people have a stable job. Because he worked for the government, he had benefits and that saved us in a lot of ways.”

As children, Rachel’s parents had been sent to a boarding school and essentially had strangers raising them, so when they had their own children, they raised them the best they could, having only had this experience to draw from. Bringing things full circle, Rachel would go on to work as a Special Education teacher for a decade, working with students that had learning disabilities.

In yet another full circle moment, her first teaching job brought her back to work at her old high school. She immediately saw herself in her students. “They were being told they can’t, they won’t, they couldn’t, and they never will. Quickly realizing that, I created scenarios for them where they could succeed no matter what. “My first couple of years of teaching, I would randomly ask the kids to write about something they felt pride in, or something or someone who had a positive impact on them. Crickets. I then asked them to write about their worst day and they wrote for days. I then realized, they had no connection to self pride and like myself, needed someone to guide them. I took those moments and taught them self pride, how it felt, and how to believe in themselves.” After seeing the glow in their faces, I would explain what they were feeling and empower them to do more.” 

Knitting It All Together: A Movement Afoot

“About eleven years ago, my older brother, Ivan, had started up his own tube sock company. My obsession with socks from childhood rekindled the fire and I was instantly drawn in. I loved the idea of creating old school tube socks, but I also wanted a brand that would celebrate the uniqueness of people as well as capture a sense of pride.” She told her brother that she wanted in. While teaching high school Special Education full time, she had been waiting tables to supplement her income. Tired of waiting tables, she suggested that she could do sales for him. After two years of asking, he said, “Rachel, leave me alone and do your own thing!” It wasn’t until her brother had finally dared her to start a business of her own that she knew this was just what she needed to do for herself. “He challenged me, and if someone is going to challenge me, I have to take them up! It was not in my life’s plan to be an entrepreneur, or so I thought, until he challenged me. My brother was my greatest mentor starting out, and he still is.”

She’d always known in her gut that if she ever left teaching, she didn’t want to lose that part of herself that allowed her to make a difference. She needed to find work that allowed her to inspire others and create positive change in the world. “I took the time to reflect on my life and what shaped me and how it created me to be the person I am.” Threading all these different situations in her life together, and putting them in one company, Pride Socks was born. “I wanted to brand the socks in a way to reflect the world my coach opened up for me; I wanted to open up for others.” 

“It’s about creating that sense of belief. Sadly, so often we don’t believe in ourselves until we have somebody that carries that torch for us, until we can carry that torch on our own. That’s part of the reason why we name our socks. For example, one of our socks is called, ‘Fearless.’ You don’t feel motivated to do something today and then you put on those socks and feel that motivation of ‘I can do this!’ “And it can serve as a reminder like that. Some days are better than others and you’ve gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

Rachel shares “Proudest Moment Cards” with her customers, giving them an opportunity to pause and reflect on meaningful moments in their lives. This has also allowed her a glimpse at the impact her business is having on people around the world: 

“I was at a roller derby event, and I was asking customers to fill out the Proudest Moment Cards. A mom and dad came up to me and got some socks for their daughter. I asked the mom if she wanted to fill out the card. She looked at her husband and said, ‘Should I?’ Later, I read the card and it said, ‘My proudest moment is the moment I saved my daughter’s life.’ It was the moment when she came home and the daughter was in the midst of attempting to kill herself. She caught her in the act. It was because her daughter was so afraid to come out, she didn’t know how to take on that pressure of coming out. She said it was that moment when she was able to see her daughter for who she is, and helped her blossom into that person. So it’s story after story after story of people coming out and celebrating and truly feeling alive, and me being able to experience that with them is probably one of the most magical moments of owning Pride Socks.”

During the pandemic, her team reflected on more creative ways they could help others. In brainstorming ways to broaden their community and feed into their ongoing efforts to be inclusive, they got to thinking about ways that they could support artists that had been hit hard, and provide them with exposure. “We reached out to artists and asked if they would like to design a pair of socks. For every sock sold, we pay them and that way they are making that little bit of income, as well, in addition to adding that pop to their profile and expanding our community.”

Every aspect of Rachel’s business is done with care and thoughtfulness. Their mission 365 days a year is to celebrate humanity, inspiring pride in others and bringing out the extraordinary in everyday people. “I believe that being a woman and lesbian owned business representing humanity every day is very important to us. We’ve had big businesses copy our ideas which has been frustrating.” 

“Anyone can sell apparel, but we sell apparel that spreads love, pride, respect and inclusion. No gesture is too small to change the world and together we will change the world from the feet up. When you feel that sense of pride in who you are, we’ve all succeeded.” Ultimately, Rachel has transformed lack into abundance, and vulnerability into strength. By knitting a new narrative for herself, she continues to pay it forward. Gathering all the little threads of what she saw was lacking in the world: from accessibility and encouragement to inclusion and acceptance – she has transformed countless lives, including her own, by creating something truly beautiful, with pride.

Rachel Smith - Pride Socks

Pictured: Pride Socks’ founder Rachel Smith

Q&A

Who inspires you? 

1) Not to sound cheesy, but my parents are my inspiration. With them being Deaf, they’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles I take for granted in my everyday life. They’ve taught me anything is possible, work hard, and always give and help when you can. Also, since having my daughter, Moxie is my inspiration to being a better person. 

2) My heroes are everyday people living life every day and being kind to one another.  A simple smile can save someone’s life without realizing it. 

 

What’s your process for curating your products?  

All our products are designed with our customers in mind – how to inspire them to continue chasing their dreams, be true to who they are, be an ally, give back to the community, and connect to the community.  We name our socks as a way to connect our emotions to our challenges, and in turn to our actions that lead us to chasing and accomplishing our dreams.  

 

What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? 

My ultimate word of advice is be patient. Overnight success rarely happens. Reach out to other
small business owners for support and morale boosts. Many of us experience the same things and can support one another. Also, failure will happen. Instead of beating yourself up, try to look at it as a stepping stone. Ask yourself what you’ve learned and appreciate those learning moments. There’s always something positive that comes out of everything. It’s just how you choose to look at it: search for the meaning.

 

What does “Pride” mean to you? And what are your proudest moments? 

To me Pride is believing in oneself for being true to who you are, celebrating your accomplishments and empowering others to do the same when they can’t see what you see in them. I have several proudest moments at the moment.  One, growing a human and giving birth to my daughter, owning a business that continues to inspire people to be their best, and creating a shirt that gives back to the Deaf community in my mother’s honor and hiring a deaf artist to design the shirt, as well. 

 

What do you feel are the qualities that make a good ally?  

Qualities that make a good ally are being trustworthy, being OPEN to learning and unlearning, having unconditional love, being supportive, being loyal and standing up for what is right. We all need each other!

 

Any products or initiatives in the works that you’d like to share?  

YES!!! We will continue to grow our Custom For A Cause side of Pride Socks. CFAC is when we collaborate with an individual and together create a design and they pick a nonprofit the proceeds go to. We just launched our 5th collaboration with Melissa Urban, co-founder of Whole 30 and $5 per sock sold goes back to Brave Trails. They are a summer camp for LGBTQ+ and allies.  We will continue to grow this side of Pride Socks this year.  

We introduced an Artist Series line of socks this year and will continue. Every month we release a new sock designed by an artist brought together to expose their creativity as a way to continue building our community and inclusivity.  

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