It all started in Shetou, Taiwan, a town known for manufacturing socks, where Frank Chang was working in a sock factory and noticed many of the manufacturing companies were selling to American companies. Frank saw this as an opportunity to move to America and build a thriving sock business of his own – and that’s exactly what he did. In 1986 Frank Chang and his wife moved to the United States and Soxland International Inc. was born.
As a two-person run business, Soxland initially sold hosiery to wholesalers on Broadway and later expanded as a private label brand to retailers such as Macy’s. Fast forward to 2020, what was once a two-person run business, has expanded into a family-run hosiery brand with 30+ employees, private-labels, in-house brands, multiple Manhattan showrooms, a large warehouse in New Jersey with a presence in retailers worldwide including, Amazon, Target, Kohl’s and more,
Today, both of Frank’s children work for the company and have helped grow the business exponentially. We were able to speak with Frank’s daughter, Jamie Chang, on how Soxland has grown since its inception, establishing boundaries between family and business, and all that good stuff! Read on for more:
Can you share the background of Soxland – (Motivation behind launch, when it launched, notable facts, etc.)?
Jamie Chang (JC): My dad is originally from a small town in Taiwan called Shetou where he worked for an uncle who owned a factory. At the time, many of the factories in Shetou were making socks for American companies, so my dad saw this as an opportunity to move to the United States to build his own business.
In the beginning, it was just him and my mom, who had only been married for a few months, running the business. They began to hire help as the company grew. Initially, they were selling to wholesalers on Broadway and eventually started selling to medium tier retailers such as Kmart and Macy’s as a private label vendor.
Today, we still do a lot of private label business, but have also seen success with a couple of our in-house brands. Most notably, we introduced our Dr. Motion brand of wellness socks in 2013 and it has continued to be our fastest growing category since its inception.
Most multi-generation family business take steps to transfer values from one generation to the next – what was this process like with your father when you joined the business?
JC: For my family, I think this transfer of values started well before I officially joined the family business in 2016.
Growing up in New Jersey, my brother and I always saw how hard my parents worked. Whenever the factory made a mistake (i.e. packaged the socks incorrectly, used the incorrect label, missed putting UPC stickers the socks), my parents would bring the boxes of socks home and we would fix the mistakes in our living room. Sometimes this would take an evening, sometimes it would take an entire weekend, sometimes it would take an entire week where we would help after we came home from school. We would sit together as a family, create some sort of assembly line and work.
I look back on those memories fondly because I know those were the times that taught me work ethic, equipped me with very useful problem-solving skills, and really bonded our family behind a strong set of values.
I grew up comfortably and would consider myself very privileged, but my parents always shared stories of their lives when they first came to America and the hardships they endured. The stories helped ensure that my brother and I grew up not taking what we had for granted.
In general, I think most of the values I have when it comes to the business were all instilled and taught to me as I was growing up and have been prevalent throughout my life – in school, at my previous jobs, in the business, etc.
Did you always know you wanted to be part of the family business?
JC: I knew it was the eventual path. My parents have always told my brother and me that we could pursue other aspirations if we wanted to. Joining the family business was an option, not an obligation. I have always loved the product (who doesn’t love socks?!) and I grew up knowing that there was a lot of opportunity in the future if I were to join.
My parents’ life in America is the quintessential “American Dream.” I have always strived to accomplish more because I feel that my potential success is the extension of my parents’ American Dream. Being capable enough to help grow and expand the family business was ultimate goal.
I intended on working outside the company for a few years after college, then potentially going to get a graduate degree before I joined the business. However, in 2016, the company was going through a big organizational restructuring, so my dad asked me to come work for him. It was at least 3 years earlier than I had anticipated that I would join, but when family calls, it’s hard to say no. My older brother has been working for the business since 2010.
What is your role within the company?
JC: It’s a bit hard to say definitively what my role within the company is because I do whatever is needed. I studied Strategic Design + Management at Parsons and worked at a design agency after I graduated in 2013. My background is in branding and project management.
Soxland is a 30+ year-old company but we operate very much like a start-up because we are not a big corporation. I am involved in every department, but I try to focus primarily on marketing and operations. I recently launched our first DTC ecommerce store for our Dr. Motion brand and manage all aspects of that endeavor from building the site to daily customer service.
How has your family established boundaries between business and family?
JC: This has been an ongoing struggle with my family. We are all “workaholics”. Before I started working in the business, I would ask my mom to tell my brother and my dad to stop talking about work whenever we were all together. After I started working for the company, this became a bit more difficult because I began actively participating in those conversations I used to try to stop! Since her breast cancer diagnosis in 2007 (she’s now healthy and in remission), my mom has stepped back a lot from the business so now she’s the one that stops us from talking about work too excessively when we are all together.
I think establishing these boundaries will always be a work in progress, but we have improved by just being aware that it’s a problem and knowing when to table a work conversation when we are outside of the office. Every year, we take a family vacation together and while, inevitably, we all end up working, it has proved to be an indispensable time for our family to find some separation between work and family, to relax and have fun as family. To my parents’ credit, they have established such a strong familial foundation that we know that work is always second to family.
What would you say is the hardest part (or challenges) of working in a family business?
JC: The hardest challenge, by far, has been figuring out how to communicate with each other. Personally, I find the dad/boss dynamic to be tricky. Sometimes, when I disagree with my dad about work matters, I forget that he’s also my boss. Disagreeing with your dad is very different than disagreeing with your boss; there is a different set of communication protocols.
From my parents’ perspective, the child/employee dynamic is also difficult to navigate. Over the years, my parents and I have had many conversations about expectations, individual values, etc. It has been very important to communicate about these topics to help separate when my dad is my dad, when my dad is my boss, and when I am a decision maker at an equal level as my dad and vice versa.
The second hardest challenge for me has been separating work, family and my own life. I have always valued balance in my life and that can be hard to achieve when two extremely big parts of my life are so intricately intertwined.
The third hardest challenge has been learning to navigate my role as the “boss’s daughter” within the company. When I entered the family business, I was worried about any preconceptions my coworkers would have about me as the daughter of the owner of the company. I wanted to make sure that I never came off as entitled (because I have never felt entitled to anything). I want the quality of my work to speak for itself and to earn my role as a manager and decision maker within the company.
Over the years, I have realized that I will always be held to a different expectation than other employees but that the most critical judgement I receive is my own. Therefore, this challenge (while it is still a work in progress) has been the easiest to overcome because the solution is, ultimately, self-awareness.
What tools have you used to bring Soxland to the “next level?”
JC: My brother and I have actively been looking for ways to modernize the company and to make it more scalable. This has included implementing a new ERP system to help streamline our operations.
On the marketing end, the internet has provided many lower cost methods to promote our brands that did not previously exist. My goal is to raise brand awareness to continue to build on the success of our in-house brands, predominately our Dr. Motion brand, which has gained a lot of momentum over these few years. Because we have always been a B2B company, launching our DTC has opened the door to connecting more with our customers and it has given us a platform to share our passion and expertise.
Who is your greatest role model? Why?
JC: Although cliché, my parents are truly my greatest role models. They moved to America, far away from their families, in their late 20s with very little money, knowing very few people and built this business purely on ambition and guts.
My brother and I were born within 5 years of my parents immigrating to America, so while my parents were adapting to a new environment and building the business, they were also raising two small children. That’s a lot to handle!
Even to this day, my dad is the hardest worker I know and his passion for this business is infectious. Despite their accomplishments, my parents are humble, generous, grateful and kind.
Any advice or tips for someone who may be considering joining their family biz?
JC: I think this is an extremely personal decision that one should think comprehensively about. It is not an easy path to take but it can also be very rewarding.
I often think about the tradeoffs I made by making the move from working for a big company to working for my family’s company. When you join the family business, you become very intimately involved with it, not just professionally but also emotionally. There will, inevitably, be confusing dynamics (i.e. the parent/child/boss/employee one) that can be very emotionally taxing to navigate. When you join the family business, the stakes feel much higher. I work all day, I think about work after I leave the office, I often dream about work and before I even open my eyes in the morning, my mind is already on work.
If someone is thinking about joining the family business, I would suggest that they evaluate their relationship with their family (i.e. whether or not working with their family could negatively affect their relationship, the compatibility of their personalities and values with their family members that could already be working in the business), understand the existing business and the future of the business as well as possible to fully comprehend what they are getting into and what opportunities they may have.
One should understand his/her own personal goals and analyze if/how those goals align with those of the family business. I also think that everyone who ends up working in a family business should experience working outside of the family business first. My experience working at another company gave me indispensable insight into how I want to be as a manager and other professional skills that have been useful for the family business.
Anything else you’d like to share?
JC: Working in a family business can be very difficult but it can also be immensely rewarding. The experience is what you make it and there can be endless opportunities for success and growth.