Shelby McKee had had it with the bulky shoes and socks that cold Cincinnati winters require. Heading out to a Bengals game one crisp evening, she reached into her husband’s sock drawer and nabbed a pair of dress socks. With a pair of cute flats in mind, she cut oblong holes in the tops of the socks that revealed just the tops of her feet when she slipped on her shoes.
Mike Crotty, a family friend who has been in the textile business for years, was able to source out Keysocks in China, and help McKee find the right factory. “We probably had 45 prototypes made in all, and all the factories were puzzled, wondering, ‘What do you mean? A sock with a hole in it?’” McKee says with a laugh.
Several years later, with her multi-talented family and friends helping out with everything from IT to PR to sourcing a manufacturer, McKee’s Keysocks
—a name coined by her friends at the Bengals game—are hitting retail shelves.
The business earned an early, fortuitous bump in sales when the product was featured in Real Simple
, a consumer magazine that offers hip ways to make life easier. Today, the product is in about a dozen retail stores, mostly small boutiques. “The reason why we didn’t go straight to retail like Target or department stores yet is because no one has ever seen this product before, and if it sat on a shelf, nobody would know what it is,” McKee says. “We started with the Internet and getting it out on social media.”
Although the socks were designed not to show, their open-foot design has spread in popularity from women, like McKee’s friends, to girls, who started asking for fun colors and patterns. Currently, Keysocks are available in black and nude hues. Brown is on its way, along with turquoise-and-gray stripes. Girls' socks in turquoise and a navy/raspberry stripe are also in the works.
Like some small businesses, McKee doesn’t take returns, but she doesn’t do it to save money. In fact, McKee says she encourages any unhappy users to pass along the product, figuring it will easily find a happy home: “I just want everybody to be comfortable!”
By Robin Donovan