Some people look up in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda of the American Museum of Natural History and see a coffered ceiling. Sage and Cody Disch saw socks.
Hopewell’s stylish Disch brothers have fashioned themselves into fourth-generation entrepreneurs. Their parents, Ray and Erica Disch, were involved in the formation of Triumph Brewing Company in Princeton. Their grandfather started and ran his own heavy construction company, R. E. Disch, Inc., and their great grandfather was an undertaker who owned his own business.
Now they’re living the startup life in New York’s West Village as owners and operators of Ace & Everett, a two-year-old company with the lofty aim of setting the direction of men’s style in the years to come. And they’re starting literally from the ground up, focusing exclusively on the design, manufacture and marketing of quality cotton hosiery.
Ace & Everett takes its name from their grandfather, Raymond Everett Disch, Sr., whose nickname was Ace. He was, in the brothers’ words, a man of effortless confidence and great style.
They used a $29,000 Kickstarter campaign to launch the company in March 2014. At that point, Cody was already working full time on the business; Sage was working as a management consultant for Accenture and part time on the business for the first year and a half.
The crowdfunding enabled them to produce their first sock, the Teddy. From the start, the brothers felt that they had to move beyond stripes and Argyles and introduce something new in terms of design. They looked to New York City, specifically the architecture of the city, for inspiration.
The pattern for the Teddy is based on the design of the ceiling in the Roosevelt Rotunda. Another sock, the “Allen,” is patterned after the spire of the Chrysler Building. The Allen is probably the most literal interpretation of the city scene, Sage said in a recent phone interview.
The Downtown, which is “inspired by the dynamic movement below 14th Street,” is the most abstract. “It’s not something you can pin a pattern on, but there is a vibe, an energy, a feeling we’re able to express through that pattern that we’re going for,” he said.
The brothers came up with the idea of starting a sock company when Cody, now 29, was attending Brooklyn Law School and Sage, now 26, was a student at Haverford College. What they were seeing was that neckties were out, and if ties were out, socks needed to be in.
“We saw that the sock was starting to evolve from commodity product to something that was a lot more expressive,” Sage said. “Guys who have a very limited capability to express themselves in terms of fashion and style now have this option to have a little bit of creativity and personality in their day-to-day wardrobe.”
To learn about the business, Cody began going to fashion trade shows and asking questions of people in the industry. He and Sage identified two main trends in successful sock companies: there were those whose calling card was design, and those whose reputation was built upon quality. So naturally, they made it their mission to knit those two approaches together.
They went down to North Carolina and met with representatives from several mills. The mill they selected to make their socks offered what they felt was the best combination of craftsmanship and guidance. They liked how the mill showed them the types of socks they could create, the machines they could make them with, the yarns they could use and the difference among them. “They were really an aide as we went through that process—what is the perfect material blend that’s long lasting, how to make socks that stay up,” Sage said.
And they’ve learned as they’ve gone along. The cotton socks they make now are different from the first socks, made through the Kickstarter campaign. They’ve changed the weight of the cotton, which Sage said makes the socks more comfortable. They also make wool socks for the winter.
The Ace & Everett office is in New York’s Soho neighborhood. Besides Cody and Sage, there are two full-time staff members and a graphic design intern. They design their socks on a computer and send patterns to the mill in a digital bitmap format. The mill uses the bitmap to create samples that can then be used to refine the designs.
Most socks are made using a flat knitting machine, but Ace & Everett socks are made using a double cylinder knitting machine, which offers a greater depth of weave — crucial for a sock like the Teddy, in which the coffered-ceiling design appears to be almost in three dimensions.
Right now, the brothers are working on a new collection for spring and summer 2017. These designs will use construction sites from across the city as templates. Once they settle on the patterns, they’ll go down to the mill in person to test different colors with different patterns. “We want to make sure we see in real time how the collection is able to come together and able to start being merchandized,” Sage said.
Quality manufacturing is one key to the business as they see it. Another is quality marketing. From the get-go, Ace & Everett has depended on a good, visual website and social media to build brand awareness. Both the website and their Instagram account (@aceandeverett) make it clear that the company’s founders’ sense of style extends from head to toe.
The brothers grew up in Hopewell. Cody attended Hopewell Valley Central High School, while Sage went to The Lawrenceville School, where he played lacrosse.
They both credit family and friends with helping them form their aesthetic sense. Cody said that growing up, he was impressed by his grandmother’s and great grandmother’s art, which instilled in him a love for colors and desire to express himself through his clothes. “As an avid basketball player and ‘sneakerhead’ in the 1990’s, I was also heavily influenced by the sneaker culture of this time,” he said.
Sage’s personal style evolved when he was a student at Lawrenceville, where he was named best dressed for the Class of 2009. Surrounded by a sea of contemporary prep, he said, “I was fascinated with bright colors and utilizing bold statement pieces to peacock within the confines of a dress code.”
Ace & Everett socks are available on the company website. They offer a Boys Club subscription, where for $20 a month, members receive a new pair of socks on the first day of every month. The socks are also available in 19 boutiques across the country, including Nick Hilton in Princeton and Village Tweed in Spring Lake.
Despite their wide-ranging interest in men’s fashion, they aren’t thinking about what’s next right now. “We’re laser focused on socks for at least the next two years,” Sage said. “We really want to grow brand awareness and distribution before we introduce new types of product.”
While some startup company founders want to grow as quickly as possible and sell, Sage says he and Cody are in it for the long haul. “We want to create a brand that resonates with people, and we want to continue growing with it and building it,” he said. “We’re taking the longer term approach.”