How Pantherella Became A Success Story By Making Socks
There are 12 unique steps that go into making a pair of Pantherella socks, 12 pairs of hands that tap, twist, prod and pry as cotton, wool and silk is designed, shaped, linked and packaged into one of the company's signature fine gauges, a process that is repeated approximately 750,000 times a year out of its Leicester factory.
Now a global name, with clients including Vivienne Westwood and the great and good of Savile Row, as well as its own hugely successful range, Pantherella, founded by the German Louis Goldschmidt back in 1937, has survived the ever-shifting tides of modern menswear by sticking to what it does best: making really good socks.
Pantherella’s Leicester factory has been the brand’s home since 1937
"The company started in a tiny workshop. In fact, I'm just looking across at it now" says managing director and fifth-generation sockmaker Justin Hall on the phone from Leicester. "We now take up nearly an entire street, gradually evolving as the demand grew."
"Louis was the first person to really develop a reputation for high quality and fine gauge hosiery," Hall adds. "At the time, the bulk of the market was heavy, thick, chunky socks with pretty rough fibers. We do sell thicker socks, but our signature, finer style is by far our best seller in the 10 years that I've been here."
A pair of colorful Pantherella socks. Who do the feet belong to? Who knows!
At any given time there are 30 tons of Egyptian and Sea Island cotton (the really good stuff) stacked high in the factory, which includes an on-site sock testing lab. Black, gray, and navy, the classics, are still popular, but, according to Hall, brighter hues have been gaining steady traction of late. "There's that eccentric guy in London who might wear a bright red, but we're also selling plenty of burnt orange, ochre, steel blues. There's such a broad range that we're now selling."
It took a while for Pantherella to even consider itself as a brand, despite its heritage and despite the fact that it has been exporting to premium department stores around the world since the forties. "I've seen the ledgers from that time and they're remarkable, but first and foremost we are a manufacturer, a sockmaker. The brand recognition is recent," says Hall.
Men at work
There are 55-or-so people who work in the factory on Hallaton Street in Leicester and 90 across the whole business, many have been with the company for decades. There's Lesley on sales with 40 years, Gary in the warehouse with 43 years and IT Manager Kelly, the longest-serving, on 44 years. Carol Bielak, the Pantherella designer, has clocked up 32 years with the brand.
"I think that we've always been confident enough in the recipe that we haven't tinkered too much with it. We've been using Egyptian, mercerized, long-staple cotton and Merino wool for decades, but adding a bit of stretch nylon for that durability. There's a consistent, high-quality product and I think customers appreciate that.
"Socks are simple." Hall adds. "but when people see all the stages that are required to make ours, the man hours and attention to detail, they'll come away saying, 'My goodness, that's a lot of work for a pair of socks.'"
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.