British entrepreneur prepares to launch bamboo sock business in Taipei

Made in Taiwan: Thomas O'Neill launches eco-friendly Hue Sock Company business in Taipei

Thomas O'Neill posing with his latest sock design called "Piñata Pink."

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Small businesses are opening around Taipei at an increasing rate since 2005. Even more fascinating than this phenomena are the characters who envision these shops and translate them into reality. I interviewed one such visionary, Thomas O'Neill, 26, about his experience preparing to launch an eco-conscious, specialty clothing store in Taipei and why he feels that Taipei is the ideal location to launch.

Inspired in Taiwan

O'Neill arrived in Taipei four years ago. He wanted to live closer to the production sites of his former business, the outdoor gear shop, Guri. His vendors were scattered around Taiwan. Impressed by the high-quality, precision, and affordable price of each item produced, O’Neill decided to stay in Taiwan long-term.

He has long been interested in clothing design and wanted to explore his interest someplace where going into production was cost-effective. Presently he has put Guri on hold and is focusing on his new venture, The Hue Sock Company (THSC).

“Inspiration for the THSC can be fully attributed to Taiwan,” O’Neill explains. The vision of this luxury sock retailer includes bright, solid color men’s socks, vibrant like Taiwan’s natural beauty.  The socks are made from Taiwan-sourced bamboo and naturally occurring minerals. These local materials offer a significantly more comfortable sock with anti-bacterial properties.

Not only was O’Neill taken with the island’s natural beauty, he was also unable to find solid, bold colored men’s socks anywhere, domestically or internationally. After a few weeks of market research among men in Taipei and abroad, O’Neill concluded that there was indeed a gap in the luxury sock market which he felt compelled to fill. Not only did he spot a demand for and curiosity in his product, but also elements in the materials and aesthetics that no manufacturer offers to date.

Welcoming economic climate

“As I became more involved in the Taipei community, I noticed how high of a demand there is for unique small businesses, and more importantly, how successful most of them are,” O’Neill said. He recalled several instances of entering boutiques and artisanal shops with his girlfriend, but felt that few catered to his style or to men at all.

Eventually he would like to expand his luxury accessory line in Taipei to include other items. He wants to continue to be close to his vendors as well as his target market. Designs for THSC’s next item, rain jackets, are already in progress. O’Neill expressed frustration with "a lack of imaginative and function design" in existing ponchos, particularly the ones used when driving a scooter.

The nuances and legalities of establishing a business in Taipei as a non-citizen are simple to understand and carry out, according to O’Neill. Low economic barriers to entry into the retail market as well as easy-to-find support have convinced O’Neill to put down roots.

THSC will first be introduced as an online retailer. Affordable rent and cost of living in Taipei make this possible. Then O’Neill will attempt to sell his product in men’s suit shops and artisanal goods spaces, such as those found in SongShan Cultural Park area and ZhongXiao DunHua area.  

Locally sourced support

Any hesitation O’Neill initially felt with building his business outside of his native England were squelched by the enthusiasm and advice of members from entrepreneurial meetups around Taipei. He felt taken aback by the kindness of these communities, a kindness which he is making a special effort to pass on to other beginning entrepreneurs.

While THSC has the commitment of several investors already, crowdsourcing platforms will also be explored to achieve additional funding. A Kickstarter campaign is scheduled to go online in June 2017. In July 2017, THSC will launch a second campaign on one of Taiwan’s own crowdsourcing platforms, flyingV.

O’Neill was drawn to flyingV after the overwhelming success of JustFont, a Taipei-based type design foundry, after campaigning to fund fonts for traditional Chinese characters created solely in Taiwan and for Taiwan. These subtle moments of what O’Neill calls “democratic expression” cultivates a patriotic environment which adds a special meaning to the words on his product label, “made in Taiwan.”

O’Neill’s passion for socks is contagious. THSC already secured over a dozen Taipei models and small businesses to advertise his product on social media. Most of THSC’s marketing will take place online.

We can look forward to The Hue Sock Company’s debut in August 2017.