There are no cheap frills on Nic Haralambous's eye-catching men's socks.
Haralambous, a mobile technology specialist, says he had been "wearing bright and colourful socks for a few years" and was looking for a "local product that wasn't overly expensive". So he did what tech guys in Africa do best: he decided to make his own.
In "less than six weeks, with less than R5 000", Haralambous set up a "lean fashion e-commerce" business called NicSocks, selling limited-edition ankle apparel made of locally grown bamboo fibres and manufactured in Cape Town.
NicSocks's "Where's Wally-meets-Willy Wonka" aesthetics have proved incredibly popular–Haralambous says he has sold "thousands of pairs". Earlier this year, the company launched its first Artist Foundation range, produced in collaboration with designer and artist Daniel Ting Chong.
Ting Chong–who says he occasionally likes working "outside of [his] normal genre"–was given an open brief and a colour wheel (the socks' colours are restricted by the available local bamboo fibre).
After working through and discarding several ideas in his sketchbook (sea socks, dinosaurs and "a safari theme" didn't make the cut), Ting Chong came up with four playful designs: the Emergency Sock (police vans and fire engines); Eye Spy (peeking eyeballs); a constellation of planets called Outer Space that was inspired by an arcade game; and the deliberate "time is money" sock, featuring dollar signs and wristwatches, called Business Time.
Ting Chong says that, from the start, he wanted to work with patterns. "When I was young I had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles duvet cover with lots of repeats," Ting Chong says. "I wanted to remake that for adults, for men who wear suits, to play on something that goes back to their childhood."
The challenge, Ting Chong explains, was to work out how to produce workable patterns on what would essentially come out as a tube, to create a design where you "couldn't see the seam, where it starts and where it ends". He mocked up his designs on a photograph of a plain white sock, to "roughly see where [the design] would be placed".
The next hurdle was translating Ting Chong's designs into 3D thread-counts. To do this, the original design files were painstakingly recreated–point by point and line by line–into a perfect mosaic of pixels, corresponding to threads to be woven. "The guy [at the sock factory] was on an old PC, and it took him weeks," says Ting Chong, "but his work was incredible."
Ting Chong says it's "always rewarding seeing something built on a computer turn into a tangible product. I have a principle of not designing things that only live on a computer screen."
NicSocks start at R99 for a single pair, and cost up to R149 for the Artist Foundation range. Visit nicsocks.com for more info. See more of Daniel Ting Chong's work at danieltingchong.com