Strathcona Stockings makes an international splash

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How hard could it be to find a pretty pair of patterned socks in this city? Well, back in 2010, apparently very hard. That’s when designer Ryley O’Byrne set out to find some funky knee-highs.

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“I just thought it would be a fun look,” says O’Byrne, who recently sat down with the Straight at an East Van café to talk about her flourishing accessories label, Strathcona Stockings. “And the more I searched and couldn’t find any, the more obsessed I became with the idea. I was like, ‘How could this not exist?’ ”

It was around that time that she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I ended up going to a textiles studio,” recalls the Emily Carr University of Art and Design grad. “And I was just working there and experimenting with hand-painting socks, which was kind of fun, but also a colossal mess.”

Eventually, O’Byrne discovered that creating a collage of vintage imagery, original drawings, and photographs and then digitally printing that design onto silky-soft nylon socks was the best way to realize her vision.

“The first pair I made that way came out, and they just looked beautiful,” she says. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is something that I would want.’ So I made 50 or so of a few different prints.”

With that, Strathcona Stockings was born. In terms of marketing, O’Byrne simply sent out a mass email to friends and family letting them know what she’d been up to since quitting her day job eight months earlier. The next thing she knew, her socks were getting shout-outs in iconic style publications like Italian Vogue and Britain’s Dazed & Confused.

“Somehow from that little email, it took on a life of its own,” says the super-cute and friendly designer. “I got little bits of press, and I was actually selling things online. And when I was unsure whether I should continue, something else good would happen and I’d be like, ‘Okay, I guess we’re still doing this.’ ”

These days, Strathcona socks ($36) are available in clothing boutiques all over the world, as well as on O'Byrne's website and at several local hot spots including One of a Few (354 Water Street), Charlie & Lee (223 Union Street), and Eugene Choo (3683 Main Street).

As for her specialty prints, she’s still proudly selling her first-ever design—though the colour saturation and combos have evolved somewhat since its inception. It’s called Floral Printed Socks in Seafoam, a gorgeous collage of various roses painted by a French botanist. Another standout is Lost Leopard, featuring a stunning montage of wildcat faces and prints. There’s also the Vintage Blue Bird—love these! One of her edgier designs is the dark and moody Space Echo—think black holes, nebulae, and galaxies. Then there’s her Watercolour Polka-Dot pattern—this one has Harajuku potential written all over it.

So how does O’Byrne rock these socks?

“I’ll wear them over tights, or if I wear them with pants, I’ll wear loafers so you can see between my pant and the loafer—it’s cute, but still very subtle,” she says before adding a bolder styling option: “I think the most exciting way to wear them is all the way up with shorts, but I think that’s maybe too much for a lot of people.”

If showcasing socks in any way just isn’t your thing, you can still get in on the Strathcona action with a lovely pair of artisan leggings ($58) or tights ($64). Either one would make a great Christmas gift, no?

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