By Nathalie Burger
— Every now and then a new post asking for help to return a lost sock to its owner hits the Excellent and Diverse people of AUC Facebook group. Roelant Stegmann, a 27-year old AUC alumn, solved this problem once and for all when he and two friends founded the sock-brand Button Right.
For Stegmann and his friends Andreas Viruly (26) and Sanne Fokkema (33), the idea of creating socks that could be buttoned together in order to prevent them from disappearing arose when Stegmann was still studying at AUC. “We often talked about the idea of making socks with a button,” says Stegemann, “but always as a joke.”
In spring 2014, after Stegmann graduated from AUC, the boys decided to put the idea into practice. They found a company that was willing to make about 300 pairs of socks. Each pair would feature a sock with a wooden button and another with a buttonhole. For their campaign video, Stegmann asked AUC teacher Diederik van Werven to record the voice over. At the time, van Werven was Senior Tutor at AUC and taught Academic Writing-classes. “I also like imitating accents and voices, and my students probably knew…” van Werven comments.
The first orders fell on client’s doormats in December of that year, ready to be given as Christmas presents. “I remember how the living room was filled with small boxes when the first order came in,” says Stegmann. Now, five years later, the three men outsource logistics to a local company and sell their socks and other products, such as shirts and bowties, in over 25 on-and offline stores, including their own.
What is his success formula for starting a company? “A dot of youthlike arrogance,” Stegmann jokes. “If you survive Calculus 2, it can’t be very hard.”
Button Right was still in its infancy when Stegmann graduated with a double major from AUC’s class of 2013 and pursued a master’s degree in machine learning and data mining at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. “Over Skype, we would discuss the outlooks of the website, which Roelant was creating,” says Viruly. The following year, Stegmann returned to Amsterdam, where he resides today.
Stegmann (right) and the founders of Button Right
When the three men founded Button Right, the fashion industry was experiencing a revival in trendy socks. Both high-fashion and commercial brands picked up the hype. The streets were filled with people wearing colourful, funky and funny socks.
“I think I joined that hype,” says Stegmann. “I like it when people are happy with colours, I enjoy that myself, too”. Stegmann’s appearance attests to this: a yellow sweater, a red jacket, and of course, a pair of red, blue, and white chequered socks featuring a wooden button.
Stegmann proudly talks about the golden glitter socks they are selling, also in men’s sizes; “I think the taboo is gone. I can imagine that people wouldn’t wear colourful socks to their work in the past. That changed.” Stegmann laughingly adds, “Wow, what we accomplish in the world! Gender fluid and colourful socks.”
However, Stegmann doubts the popularity of colourful socks will continue to grow. “Our best-sold sock for men is still the dark blue one. So, I think the sock has taken a big lift, especially as [a] gift, but I do not think many men follow the trend,” he says. Hence, Button Right aims to offer affordable, good quality and fun socks that are not too trend dependent.
The company expanded its merchandise last year and is aiming to move into a physical office in the upcoming years. They also want to move the production of their socks to Europe to become more sustainable.
While Button Right expands, Stegmann plans to spend more time on other commitments. “I really like the practical side of the job; creating socks, marketing campaigns, websites; coming up with ideas and then carrying those out,” says Stegmann. As the novelty of this project is starting to fade, Stegmann aims to move on. He also works as a data scientist at Snappet, a company that develops an educational application for children at primary schools. Although Stegmann may be taking a step back from Button Right, he will do so in socks that will never lose each other in the laundry.
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was written, edited, and fact-checked by students of the journalism course. Some content may have been altered by The Herring’s editors for clarity and style.