By Lisa Zimmerman | Engagement Insider
In 2001, Plaxico Burress, then a wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers, took a break during a team practice prior to the AFC Championship game. The second-year player, who had been drafted out of Michigan State University in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft, was breathing hard as he knelt on the sideline and turned to his teammate, running back Jerome Bettis.
“I said, one thing’s for sure, you can’t play this game forever,” Burress recalled. “He said you got that right buddy.’”
Burress’ NFL career ultimately spanned a total of 11 years during which he also played for the New York Giants and the New York Jets before retiring after the 2013 season. Burress wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do next, but then an idea presented itself.
For most of his life, Burress had worn plain white tube socks. Then in 2003, he decided that part of his wardrobe needed more of a spark and began wearing colored socks. And he wore them with everything.
“I’m a colorful and buoyant kind of guy,” Burress said. “I would wear them with shorts and sneakers in the summer time.”
That raised some eyebrows, but when people questioned him, he would simply reply, “This is my thing.”
After exhausting the styles of the more upscale sock designers, Burress knew what he had to do. It was time to start his own sock company. And with that, The Plaxico Burress Collection was born.
A friend connected him with a designer and together they created the vision. In the process he learned about fabric and how different designs work better or worse with certain yarns.
“I wanted to get as close as I could to an upper echelon sock,” Burress said. “I was passionate about it. It was something that was fun. Every morning I woke up and tried to design something.”
Over a period of about 18 months they honed in on what would be the best product for the brand. After briefly working with a factory in China, Burress realized he was better served with an American-based manufacturer and relocated his manufacturing to a factory in Camden, New Jersey that was already the producer of a great majority of current high end sock lines.
Then in 2014 Burress made what turned out to be an extremely fortuitous decision. He decided to attend the NFL’s Consumer Product Boot camp in Baltimore, Maryland. His intention was to see what additional information he could gather to apply to his new business as well as do some networking. That weekend paid off more than he could have imagined. In addition to picking up some tips, he also had a chance to sit down with former New York Giants linebacker and fellow Michigan State alumni Carl Banks, who is currently the head of GIII Apparel by Carl Banks, part of the GIII Apparel licensing company. Among the brands that GIII Apparel represents are some of the most well-known, high end fashion lines including Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, and Tommy Hilfiger. After some lengthy discussions and negotiations, Banks brought The Plaxico Burress Collection under his brand.
“I was riding down to get my morning coffee,” Burress recalled. “Carl called me and said, ‘I’ve got some good news for you. I found a guy who loves your company and we are willing to finance your company and finance your socks.’ I literally stopped my car and did a little happy dance. That was the highlight of everything.”
At the boot camp, Burress also made a connection with Dale Whitney, president of Renaissance Imports, the largest NCAA footwear manufacturer. The two decided to collaborate and Burress recently signed a licensing deal to sell a sock line at his alma mater, Michigan State University, with more NCAA lines to follow.
The Plaxico Burress Collection is currently expected to debut in major department stores in the fall of 2015. Once that takes hold, Burress has plans to expand into a full fine accessories men’s line including ties, bow ties and pocket squares.
When you’re passionate about something it doesn’t feel like work,” Burress said. “That’s the beautiful thing about it. I create my own hours. I go to the office when I need to. I just hope that everything is on the incline and we get everything we want out of it.”