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Economic downturn prompts Orangeburg woman to sock it away

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By Chris Cox
ccox@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 20, 2015
(From the Nov. 9-22 printed issue of the Columbia Regional Business Report)

Joanna Godwin knew the Great Recession was barreling down on her husband Kenny’s hardware distribution company, much in the same way it did to so many other small businesses nearly a decade ago.

But she never understood just how badly things were until that fateful day.

jojo sox  web
Joanna Godwin launched JoJo Sox, a fashionable socks business, during the recession. (Photo/Provided)
“It just hit me the day he came to me with his hands held out,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I’m watching the business I spent 30 years building fall through my hands and there’s nothing I can do.’”

So Godwin got to work. The former schoolteacher and mother of four wanted to help in any way she could, but she did not want to go back toward education. She hoped to find something unique, a passion project drawn from her own personal enjoyments.

“What can I do that would be something that would sell in a recession that would appeal to a wide variety of people,” she wondered, “that was a little bit different that I could do a little bit better?”

An avid horseback rider, Godwin soon realized there were no socks on the market made specifically for the short boot. A fashionable woman in her own right, there were little to no options for any stylish footwear she could show off while riding.

So she decided to change all that with her own unique line. There was born JoJo Sox, which she recently pitched at 1 Million Cups, a weekly gathering where local entrepreneurs discuss the challenges and issues of starting a business.

“We tossed around ideas for probably a couple hours and ended our conversation with the words, ‘Let’s do it,’” Godwin said. “I’m a doer. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that can be bad because you make mistakes, but I try to be careful.”

Her brother John, who for a time was in the sock manufacturing business, connected her with a manufacturer. He was skeptical at first – “A lot of people come and they have ideas,” Godwin recalled him saying – he eventually succumbed to a bargain deal. For a $1,000 investment, Godwin would ensure all of her socks would sell within 30 days.

Within two weeks she had her socks, and she quickly got to work. She had no experience is sales, and she still laughs at the memory of asking Kenny what to say first. So she got in her car and drove, probably 250,000 miles as the business first got going, she guessed.

At first, she “started ugly” with her handful of minimally-designed 4-inch socks targeted at equestrian stores. But Godwin knew she needed to expand out from such a finite market, and after discovering the sock paired perfectly with skinny jeans she began targeting mainstream retail and high-end boutiques.

She later adopted both 6-inch and ankle socks, pushed bamboo material as an alternate to nylon, and began selling her now-colorful, smartly designed creations. She said JoJo Sox ended up doing around $200,000 in sales last year.

Despite the economic downturn’s best effort, Godwin’s ingenuity and entrepreneurship helped save her family. With a little bit of help from some fancy socks.

“This was do-or-die, make-it-or-break-it,” Godwin said. “Failure is really not an option when you have four kids and all but one is still in private school, college and law school. This was serious. So I just got to work.”

Sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurship.org, 1 Million Cups meets at 9 a.m. Wednesdays at Cromer’s P-Nuts, 1700 Huger St. For more information, check the organization’s website at http://columbiasc.sites.1millioncups.com/.

Reach Chris Cox at 803-726-7545 or on Twitter @chrisbcox.

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