Good for the sole: Sol Socks for your flip-flops

Baltimorean's split-toed fleece hose keeps sandaled toes toasty when winter's chill is afoot

August 29, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

A laid-back surfer dude who shunned shoes, Sean Berg wanted to find a way to keep his toes warm in the winter. He was living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, recently out of college, and running a newspaper-delivery company when not spending his time in the water.

This was 1995, and Berg was a flip-flop devotee before they became trendy, before Northwestern University's women's lacrosse team wore them to the White House, before designers bejeweled them to sell at Neiman Marcus for $395.

Berg, seeking to keep his piggies warm, found a fleece manufacturer and asked for a custom-made pair of socks, with a separate compartment for the big toe. He wore those socks everywhere - all over the Outer Banks, all winter long. He was warm and toasty. And he never had to put on shoes.

Ten years later, Berg - now 35 years old and living in Baltimore - has built a small company around the idea of wearing flip-flops year-round. His company sells Sol Socks - fleece socks with two toe compartments. Berg is not the first to try to turn flip-flops into all-weather shoes - several other companies also offer the split-toe arrangement - but he says no one else makes them in soft, comfy fleece.

He sold 2,000 pairs of the socks last year, through surfer stores and his Web site, solsocks.com , where they cost from $10.50 to $13.50 a pair. But this year, with the outdoors chain Hudson Trail Outfitters carrying the socks and other big orders coming in, Berg expects to sell 5,000 pairs. The socks come in 10 colors and three sizes.

Of course, he understands he must overcome the prevalent fashion wisdom that it's uncool to wear socks with sandals - the image of the middle-aged man, with white socks pulled up to his pasty calves and Tevas strapped on as he heads to the ballgame or family picnic.

"People think wearing socks with sandals is kind of nerdy," Berg admits. "But I thought there are people out there strong-willed enough to wear them anyway. And I thought Sol Socks could overcome that stereotype."

He adds, "We sell a lot to people in California and Colorado."

People there must be cool.

Berg runs his company, which shipped its first socks in 2002, out of his home in Baltimore's Wyman Park neighborhood, where he lives with his wife and two young children. He still has his day job: He is a sixth-grade teacher at Baltimore's Lakeland Elementary/MiddleSchool.

He's worn his Sol Socks to school and modeled them for his pupils, though he hasn't completely won them over. "They think it's pretty neat, but they don't always understand me sometimes," he says.

At Hudson Trail Outfitters in Towson recently, several customers and store employees said they would be tempted to slip on the Sol Socks when colder weather arrives.

"I'm a flip-flop freak," says Jonathan Hart, 24, the store's assistant manager. "I'm the guy who will wear flip-flops until November and put them back on in February. With Sol Socks, I could wear flip-flops on Christmas."

Praise the Lord.

Josh Stacy, 22, a sandal-clad hiking and camping instructor who was looking at backpacks in the store, was impressed with Sol Socks, coming across them for the first time.

"I think a lot of people would wear these socks," Stacy says.

But what about the socks-with-sandals image problem? "If you work in the outdoor business, that social stigma breaks down a lot," he says. "It's more about function - and goofiness.

"These socks would get you extra points."

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