Atlantic Dispatch logo

IVY ELLIS: LUXURY HANDCRAFTED SOCKS, MADE IN SCOTLAND

“It was a chaotic yet heartwarming scene as our children eagerly joined in to help with the packing process. This moment symbolised the collaborative and family-oriented nature of our business.

It’s a Saturday morning, and the UK and the wider world are in the midst of a pandemic. Chaos reigns supreme and uncertainty looms large like a starving vulture.

Les and Lauren Dawson are sat are their kitchen table. Music plays in the background, and the smell of morning coffee fills the air. Unsure of what the future holds, they begin to think of life beyond their current 9-5 jobs.

They decide to get creative and start thinking of ideas and side projects. Coffee is poured, the music is turned up, and pieces of paper and marker pens soon inhabit the kitchen table.

Within a few hours, an idea began to take shape, as hundreds of sketches of socks started to pile up.

Drawing inspiration from a knowledge and love of vintage sportswear, the 80s, Varsity fonts and the colourways of the ‘Big Four’, the concept of Ivy Ellis was soon born.

IVY ELLIS

“The pandemic definitely played a significant role, as it pushed us to explore new avenues and embark on something different,” explains Les.

“Life before Ivy Ellis revolved around family and the footwear industry. The pandemic changed all of that. My wife, Lauren now manages Ivy Ellis, and I balance the brand with my 9-5 job.”

Ivy Ellis is a brand that has been thoughtfully curated. Every single aspect from the name to the design to packaging, and the core values that run through the business has a reason behind it.

There have been no corners cut, and everything has been done with an intention and purpose.

The brand draws inspiration from so many creative avenues – from American sports such as Basketball, and American Football to Ice Hockey and American sportswear, 80s movies, the birth of hip-hop, and the graffiti scene.

“My love for American sportswear, varsity fonts, and colourways was influenced by various factors,” Les tells us. “Growing up, I was part of a group of friends in our neighbourhood who were all into the NFL. 

NFL

“Being born in 1974 and growing up in the 80s, I stumbled upon a newspaper called “Touchdown” that captivated my interest.

“Once a month, our newsagent would procure a copy for me from America. This newspaper solely focused on the NFL, providing me with all the information I needed.

“Apart from the Superbowl, which aired at 2 am on Channel 4 (a time when I was fast asleep, being a kid), there was a scarcity of resources to learn about the sport back then.

“At that age, it wasn’t just the sport itself that fascinated us, but rather the names, cities, states, colours, and fonts associated with NFL teams. They seemed far more intriguing compared to the sports we were accustomed to in the UK.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS

“It was akin to someone across the pond in the 80s discovering a team like Southend United, for example. The allure of the unknown and the uniqueness of these American sports elements sparked our inspiration.”

One of the other inspirations for the brand was Les and Lauren’s children. The name Ivy Ellis was born through their children’s middle names – Ivy from their daughter and Ellis from their son.

Together as a family they are currently based in a small town in Essex called Leigh on Sea, and keeping the design, production and manufacturing process in the UK was something that both Les and Lauren felt strongly about.

Early on in the adventure they decided to produce everything in a small, family-run factory way up in the Scottish Highlands.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS

“We are making small runs, operating sustainably and making a lasting, quality product, which is at the core of our beliefs. 

“We regularly visit the Highlands and our long-term goal is to settle there once our children have grown up and left home.”

Their core values and beliefs also extend to them looking to raise awareness around important issues such as mental health.

IVY ELLIS MENTAL HEALTH CHARITY WORK.

“When we embarked on this project, we wanted to support and give back to a cause that is very important to us and extremely close to our hearts.

“As such, we chose to support UK CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) – a charity that campaigns tirelessly for the prevention of suicide and creates awareness about mental health.

In fact, Ivy Ellis are currently collaborating on a T-shirt with UK CALM where all proceeds will go directly back to the charity.

Throughout our time with Les, it’s quite clear to see his passion for the brand, and it’s incredible to think how much has been achieved in such a short space of time.

“There have already been so many highlights for us. It’s been quite something to receive calls from renowned brands like J.Crew and John Simons, or to be contacted by Ships Japan, collaborating with Pilgrim Surf in NYC, and also witnessing Lauren ( my wife who runs it day to day ) growing within the brand.”

IVY ELLIS SOCKS

The brand is always looking forward though and the rest of the year promises so much.

“I’m really excited about the rest of 2024, we have an exciting collaboration planned where we will release a new sock each month.

“Our ultimate long-term goal is to become the ‘go-to’ sock brand globally and be recognised for our high-quality products made in the Scottish Highlands.

“We are also looking at venturing into heritage sports from across Europe and looking at Norwegian winter Olympic champs from the 80s as well as definitely some early ’90s Italian football inspiration……watch this space!

It cannot be emphasised enough how just important it is to support independent businesses like Ivy Ellis, who are creating something new and exciting, with core values that represent such an important purpose.

It was a pleasure for The Atlantic Dispatch to sit down with Les as we spoke about the Ivy Ellis story so far and the journey that has shaped the brand.


LET’S CREATE OUR OWN BRAND

We have a vivid memory of a Saturday morning, sitting at the kitchen table, unaware of what the future held for us amidst the uncertainty of lockdown and job prospects.

We were on a mission to find a good sock brand that we could represent as brand ambassadors. After a long search and facing rejections and styles that didn’t resonate with us, we came to a decision: “Let’s create our own brand.” If we couldn’t find what truly spoke to us, we would make it ourselves.

We dedicated countless hours to finding a suitable factory across Europe, but we encountered obstacles such as high minimum order quantities, sampling costs, and other larger brands monopolising the manufacturing facilities. It just didn’t feel right.

MAN MODELLING IVY ELLIS SOCKS.

We wanted our brand to have a clear, transparent, and honest DNA, without any need for exaggerated marketing stories or fluff.

We aimed for a genuine narrative that effortlessly rolled off the tongue and resonated with those who “get it.”

Socks are synonymous with warmth and cosiness, and we associate these qualities with cold places where manufacturing is highly regarded.

Scotland became our chosen destination to kickstart this project, as it aligned perfectly with our vision.

After tirelessly searching, making calls, and utilising LinkedIn, we finally discovered a factory. This factory had only two machines, operated by two dedicated individuals, and had primarily produced hiking socks.

The emphasis on quality was evident, and we were filled with excitement. Right from our first conversation with them, we knew it was going to work. They welcomed our inspiration and ideas, and in turn, we relied on them to educate us about the manufacturing process. It was a perfect partnership.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.


PRODUCT IS KING

The beginning of the journey was quite a juggling act, as we had to manage our responsibilities at Ivy Ellis along with our other jobs.

However, having a basic understanding of wholesale, margin, and following a critical path made things relatively straightforward.

We firmly believe that “Product is King,” and that became our starting point. We were fortunate to find a reliable factory that could deliver well-made products.

Without a high-quality product, it’s easy to get lost among the competition or end up spending a fortune on marketing. Honesty has always been a key aspect of our story.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.

Start-up capital was a significant factor, but since we started with small production runs and quick turnarounds, we were able to grow organically without the burden of debt.

We never set out to scale up rapidly; our focus was on creating something beautiful that would keep our customers coming back. We relied on word-of-mouth marketing to generate organic growth, and it has proven successful, albeit over a longer period of time.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.


FUELLED MY APPRECIATION FOR AMERICAN SPORTSWEAR

We eagerly awaited the latest issue of Touchdown magazine, which featured every helmet, jersey, and logo from different teams.

I chose the New York Jets as my team because I was fascinated by the birth of graffiti and the book “Subway Art.”

The Jets represented New York, which was a hub for graffiti, and I loved the colour green. The name itself sounded fast and exciting.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.

Once you choose a team, it becomes a part of your identity, much like the European culture where loyalty to a team is unwavering.

In addition to my love for American sports, my passion for American sportswear was also influenced by the 80s movies, the birth of hip-hop, and the graffiti scene.

In 1983 and 1984, there was a significant impact on popular culture with the release of the book “Subway Art,” which featured a classic picture of a guy running over subway roofs wearing a pair of collage socks pulled up high. This image resonated with me and fuelled my appreciation for American sportswear.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.


ICONS LIKE PAUL NEWMAN, STEVE MCQUEEN, JFK AND MILES DAVIS

As I grew older, my taste in fashion expanded, and I became heavily involved in the MOD music scene.

The mod culture never truly leaves you, and it is closely connected to the Ivy League looks of the early 60s.

Icons like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, John F. Kennedy, and Miles Davis embodied this style, and their influence further deepened my love for American sportswear, varsity fonts, and colourways.

Paul Newman.

I guess when you discover something that excites you like the NFL, it often leads to exploring related areas of interest.

This natural progression is what led me to discover and appreciate Basketball, Baseball and Ice Hockey. 

When we first started, we created sketches inspired by legendary NFL players like Joe Namath from the Jets and Otto from the Browns.

New York Jets.

These sketches helped us create samples to test the designs. We also wanted to offer socks made from slub yarn, which gives a warm and cosy feeling. To maintain a vintage look, we used a vintage cream yarn with stripes.

To add a unique touch, we also decided to name each sock after a highland coastline, such as Melvich, Nairn, Sinclair, and more.

JOHN SIMMONS STORE.


BRINGING OUR DESIGNS TO LIFE

Our creative process involves sitting down with our spec sheets and drawing inspiration from vintage sports. We are also currently creating a sock design inspired by the 80s Martini racing car named The Carlos.

Branding was key, so instead of using transfers which rub off, we stitched in the brand name on each sole of the sock. This way it’s there forever or at least until the end of the sock’s life.

Once we have finalised the designs, we send them to the factory. They always sample the socks using our vintage cream yarn to ensure the quality and look match our vision. The factory plays a crucial role in bringing our designs to life. 

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.


YOU BEGIN TO REALISE YOU HAVE SOMETHING SPECIAL

The adventure of Ivy Ellis has been incredible. It never feels like work because we are passionate about what we do and our customers seem just as passionate, which has been fantastic! 

From sitting at our kitchen table until now, we could never imagine having come this far.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.

Initially, you design and make some lovely socks, and after receiving positive feedback from people whose opinions you value, you begin to realise you have something special.

Then we began to build a wholesale margin and after 6 months our socks ended up in prestigious stores like Ships Japan, End, HIP, and J.Crew, and even earned recognition as Monocle magazine’s sock brand of the year.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.


IT WAS A CHAOTIC YET HEARTWARMING SCENE

We have experienced several significant milestones and memorable moments during our journey as a business so far.

These include receiving our initial purchase orders from retailers, witnessing the arrival of our first delivery, creating our website from the ground up despite having limited knowledge, and the exhilarating moment when it finally went live.

On the morning of the website launch, we found ourselves surrounded by a kitchen floor covered in socks that needed to be wrapped.

It was a chaotic yet heartwarming scene as our children eagerly joined in to help with the packing process. This moment symbolised the collaborative and family-oriented nature of our business.

JOHN SIMMONS SHOP

Throughout our journey, we have had the pleasure of crossing paths with exceptional individuals who have played an integral role in shaping our brand’s identity and voice.

We are incredibly grateful to Onward Graphic Design for their outstanding graphic design work, which has significantly contributed to our branding and tone of voice.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.

These experiences and encounters have been pivotal in our growth and have added depth and character to our business. We cherish the memories and appreciate the support we have received along the way.

We have also learned the importance of staying true to our core beliefs and trusting our gut feelings. 

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.

MAINTAIN A POSITIVE MINDSET

Supporting independent businesses and brands is crucial to us, as we come from a shop floor background and value partnerships with customers.

Independent businesses and brands are often driven by passion and innovation. By supporting these businesses, we encourage creativity and diversity in the marketplace. 

In terms of advice we would look to give anybody who is thinking of setting up their own business, I’d say that it is crucial to persevere and remain focused.

Challenges will arise, but it is important to seek alternative solutions and maintain a positive mindset.

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.

Take your time and ensure everything is done correctly. Only when you are completely satisfied, should you bring your creation to the market, as you will know the effort and dedication that went into it.

Remember customers not only purchase a product, but they also invest in you as a person. 

IVY ELLIS SOCKS.


KEEP TALKING

We are involved with UK CALM, an incredible organisation that supports an important cause. As part of our brand concept, we wanted to contribute to a charity that holds personal significance for us.

We are currently working alongside them to produce a T-shirt where all funds will go directly to the charity.

When I was 14, my father tragically took his own life. At that time, mental health was rarely discussed, and unfortunately, it remains a topic that is not openly discussed today, despite the growing awareness.

I believe that if my father, like many others, had felt comfortable talking about his emotions, he might still be here today. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, so the message we want to convey is simple: “Keep talking.”

The T-shirt we are designing will align with our brand’s exaggerated collage logo, and all profits from its sales will be donated to CALM.

IVY ELLIS QUOTE.


ALL OUR THANKS TO THE BRILLIANT IVY ELLIS

YOU CAN FOLLOW THEIR JOURNEY ON SOCIAL MEDIA HERE.

Trending Posts