STYLE: The Story Behind Boardroom Socks
Nathan James and his company pull on a cozy piece of North Carolina’s past
“Prior to getting into this business, I would never have appreciated a well-made sock,” Nathan James says with a laugh. “Socks were very utilitarian, not really men’s fashion. Over the last decade, they’ve gone from being practical to more of a statement.”
The 29-year-old CEO of Boardroom Socks, the Charlotte-based company his parents launched in 2010, sells more than 50 styles and colors of cotton and wool men’s dress socks. The classic ribbed sock is its bestseller, but it offers a range of colors and patterns in mid-calf and over-the-calf varieties. James plans to expand later this year with a line of no-show socks designed for loafers and boat shoes.
“A sock sounds like such a basic thing, but it’s amazing how complex it is to make,” James says. The “raw material”—the yarn—goes through the industrial knitting machines in their Lexington factory. From there, it travels to a finishing plant in Granite Falls, outside Hickory, where the socks are cleaned, packaged, warehoused, and shipped. “One pair of socks has to go through so many pairs of hands,” he says. “It’s amazing how many jobs that one sock impacts.”
James comes from a long line of textile titans who’ve supported the industry in North Carolina. “I’m seventh or eighth generation,” he says. “One of my great-great-grandfathers opened our family’s original textile mill in Alamance County.” His great-grandfather imported silk and manufactured women’s hose. His great-uncle ran a sweater mill, and his grandfather started a yarn brokerage business, where his father started working in the 1970s.
Growing up in Greensboro, James and his older brother would go to their dad’s warehouse to help him package yarn and ship it to customers. “I remember there was a whole room of sewing machines where socks would be seamed,” he says. “It was always really loud, and one day we walked in and the building was dead quiet. There were wires dangling from the ceiling, and all the sewing machines were gone. To me, that was symbolic of things happening in the industry over the past 20 years. It was a way of life in North Carolina, and everything was moving overseas.”
The decline inspired his parents, Mike and Carol, to continue the family tradition and launch Boardroom Socks from their attic 11 years ago. They chose “boardroom” because they wanted a name that implied dress socks. “My dad is affectionately known as a ‘yarnologist’ because he knows so much about yarn and where to find it,” James says. “He has a yarn broker, so he knows how to get it at the best prices.” Their socks, made with pima cotton and merino wool, run between $12 and $18 a pair and sell through their website and a handful of independent retailers like Fairclough & Co. “A lot of socks now have polyester, acrylic, or other synthetic materials that are much lower in cost, but those materials will feel really hot or itchy and won’t wear as well.”
James held various jobs in sales and digital marketing before he became CEO of Boardroom Socks in May 2018. People often ask if the family will expand to other men’s apparel, but he says it’s not in their plans. “Our family’s expertise has been predominantly in hosiery—it’s what we know best. We can keep adding new categories of socks. There’s still a lot of room for growth there.”
When he’s not driving to the small towns where he sources Boardroom’s packaging material and supplies, James works from his home office in Charlotte. He still has no idea how many socks he owns but knows it’s a lot. “People are blown away by the towers of boxes in my office,” he says. “And everyone in my family still gives each other socks for Christmas. It’s a never-ending cycle.”