The story of Oregon’s successful Chivaz Wear started in — of all places — Silicon Valley.
Matt Gilman was working at various video game and app startups in the Bay Area, where he found himself spending an enormous amount of time and effort building other people’s dreams and ideas. After years of working for others, he learned how the system worked and those insights led to a realization: he didn’t like working for other people.
Inspired by a goat
The initial idea for Chivaz Wear came when Matt had a few extra dollars and wanted to upgrade his wardrobe, with an emphasis on unique socks that didn’t fall down.
“I always liked wearing long socks with shorts, but in 2006, the only long socks available were tube socks that came in multipacks and other ‘stylish’ socks from places like The Gap that had poor quality and uninspiring design,” he said. “Socks that fall down are called quitters, which is something I learned that from a Canadian friend growing up. I am not a quitter, nor will I create something that would be considered a quitter.”
The initial spark was expanded by a chance encounter with a goat..
“At this same time, I met this goat named Chiva (Spanish word for goat). She was the first goat that I ever really got to be around for more than just a quick looksee. She had a strong personality, and spent most of her day standing on a surfboard, surveying her expansive world, from the middle of my friend’s tree.”
So how did the combination of socks and a goat came together to launch a brand? As an independent person himself, the connection made perfect sense to Matt. He put a stake in the ground to make unique and high quality socks that were an expression of not only the independent and awesome spirit he saw in Chiva, but how he felt in the world.
“In my mind, goats represented so many things I saw as part of the brand; Independent flexible, adaptable, crafty, wiry, bearded and/or horned, great on their feet (sure footed), always trying to escape their pen, will eat anything, will not sacrifice their personality, friends to many, and unique.”
But the transition from a concept to an actual company can get a bit messy and complicated – especially when it comes to a consumer products brand. As a number of consumer product founders do, Matt took to Kickstarter.
“I had no money, so I floated the idea out there and I got a ton of pre-orders: $20,000 worth. That money allowed me to order the socks and start selling them. Without Kickstarter, I would have had to find some type of financing and no one in Silicon Valley was interested in hearing about small sock companies. I was hoping to raise $7,500 because I would have chipped in another $7,500 to get the initial order actually made. When I reached $20,000 I couldn’t believe it.”
It took Matt quite a while to find a reliable and quality focused manufacturer that understood the type of product he wanted to create, and wouldn’t cut corners or rush things. The socks had to hold their elasticity (wouldn’t fall down), kept their color, wouldn’t be too hot, and most importantly felt awesome when you put them on.
“I have drawings from 2007 showing my socks with a label on each sock and my goat logo loud and clear. I had several manufacturers that I prototyped with that I found through Alibaba. No one was giving me what I wanted, and the struggle through translation was obvious. I don’t know how to speak Chinese and they didn’t know how to speak English, and everything suffered as a result. After almost giving up, I ran into a friend of mine from Taiwan and he told me about his cousins who had once dealt with a good manufacturer there. I got in touch and immediately I knew that these people were professionals. We probably ran through another 10 prototypes before arriving at the right mix of materials and colors and price. I haven’t looked elsewhere since. “
With the manufacturing lined up, he turned his focus to the designs. From the outset Matt knew he wanted to have three designs with goats on them as a way to build his own IP. In his mind, anyone can make a striped sock, but not just anyone can make a goat sock. However, the realities of the marketplace and consumers had to be balanced with a unique IP.
Designing to differentiate
Beyond the initial logo design, Matt has mostly just used his own soul to come up with the designs, and with no art background, he still creates the socks in an old school way – with paper and colored pencils. He also doesn’t really look at other company’s designs, and as a result, there is a uniqueness that is simply inspired by goats, colors, nature and the environment around me.
“ More people initially like stripes more than goats, so I created nine styles that were all over the map to see what people actually wanted…unfortunately I ordered a bit too many of a few styles and was sitting on inventory for longer than i wanted. It was a great learning process though.The second phase of Chivaz has been a bit different. I ordered smaller quantities and styles, but they are selling faster. There is still a lot to be dialed in when it comes to the styling.”
Integrated into the styling and production are a few hidden features like the “get goatin” on the inside of each cuff, the cloven hoofprint on the bottoms, and the reflective embroidery on the back of each calf. These subtle elements harken back to the original idea genesis, but also help to define the brand.
As with most creative founders, he does have one that he’s particularly connected to.
“ I’m most proud of my current Black and White Chivaz sock. Not only does it have the Chivaz brand front and center, which I hope will serve as a reminder to the person wearing them to “get goatin’” and find their inner goat, but they also are two different socks with the same design. This goes even deeper with the brand and the message that I am trying to spread – that something that looks opposite, might actually be the same.”
You can learn more about the black and white sock via this Medium post Matt wrote.
Growing the company in Central Oregon
Matt moved out of the Bay Area because he wasn’t thriving there or growing like he wanted to as a person. He found that life was too busy and full of things that he didn’t always enjoy doing, and the general quality of life was a constant sense of pressure.
“ Sitting in traffic, absurd day care prices, and some uninspiring companies that I had worked at led a general sense of dismay. Chivaz was on hiatus because I just couldn’t keep doing that and a full time job with a long commute. So when I moved to Redmond, it was conscious decision between my wife and I to change our lifestyle and get back to doing things that felt naturally good. Seeing beautiful nature, hiking, biking, meeting people, learning new perspectives, and understanding how to live without an income – which is still tough!”
2016 was a huge year of growth for Matt and his family, which is something he attributes to the environment that Oregon has to offer. Their rent went from $4300/month to $1500/month, a drastic change that gave them the room to make some mistakes – mistakes that would have really hindered them in the Bay Area.
“In the Bay Area I had no more room for mistakes. I would go into debt immediately between any jobs, so that had to keep all of my focus – instead of my own well being, my family, my creativity and my business, but what we found in Bend was an awesome and welcoming community.”
Matt didn’t know what he was going to do for work after he moved to Redmond, so he started to network in Bend. He met Preston Calicott from Five Talent and thought the meeting would be a good one because he thought it could lead to a job or at the least introduce him to a couple of people and teach him about the area. The two of them started chatting about different companies and Matt kept droning on about random stuff. However, the conversation took an immediate turn when it switched to socks.
“We started talking about socks and I immediately changed my attitude. He basically said that I shouldn’t work for others if I really wanted to do socks. He was a bit harsh and honest with me, which was something I hadn’t heard in ages – so I welcomed it after wiping away my tears. What a blessing. He then introduced me to Gary Bracelin & Eric Meade of Bend Outdoor Worx and I just kept going out and trying to meet people on my own after that. I would just walk into different stores with a bag of socks and my story and start talking. I couldn’t believe it, but people actually had time for me.”
What Matt found in Bend was a similar tribe of people. There is a big group of people who do their own thing, so they seemed to know what he was going through, and more importantly, everyone has been supportive of the mission that he is on and stoked that he is bringing a new product to town.
The community and environment led to the creation of a new design, the Cascadia sock. The concept is based around a simple belief; Central Oregon is an awesome mixture of nature, independent spirits, local love, pioneering heritage, and the ability to see past boundary lines and into what brings us together as a people.
“I had no idea what Cascadia was when I moved here and now I am so proud to be a part of this community. I only made 200 of those socks and I am selling them quicker than I thought. Honestly, I feel like I am just lucky to be the first company to make a really good quality sock with this design that obviously came from someone else. I have learned that people also buy based on what they know and people who recognize that design love the design.I’d like to get these socks at some retailers in other areas of Cascadia, so if anyone out there knows of any, please send them my way – retail is still not my strong suit.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Matt and Chivaz is around spreading the “gospel of the goat,” but that could also be seen as an opportunity, one that he is slowly realizing every day.
“People keep saying they wear their Chivaz doing different activities like yoga, skiing, biking, running hiking, CrossFit, boomerang throwing, painting, cooking, and on and on. I haven’t had a chance to really dive deep into any of those segments. What I’d really like to do is get in good with other local entrepreneurs that are hustling like me and make make some co-branded socks, but I haven’t been able to build the relationships or work out the math quite yet.”
The bottom line is that Matt can’t wait to make more socks that will inspire and remind people to tap into their inner-goat. To get people believing in themselves and their own personalities and to embrace the differences that make each of us unique. To, as he puts it, “Get goatin!”