September 23, 2022

A perfect fit

A pairing of fun and faith guides couple’s journey in the footsteps of the saints

Scott and Elisabeth Williams strive to keep a leg up on everyone with their business, Sock Religious, “the world’s largest Catholic sock company.” (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Scott and Elisabeth Williams strive to keep a leg up on everyone with their business, Sock Religious, “the world’s largest Catholic sock company.” (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Even before Scott Williams shared his unusual idea during a road trip to Chicago, his wife Elisabeth had learned that he is always up for an adventure.

After all, shortly after their wedding six years ago, the Indianapolis couple traveled to Rome to take part in a long-standing tradition at the Vatican.

It’s a tradition that holds that if a couple arrives for a Wednesday audience with the pope within six months of their wedding and wears the clothes they were married in (or similar attire), they will be allowed to sit in a reserved section where they will receive a “blessing of newlyweds” from the Holy Father.

With Scott in a black tuxedo and Elisabeth in her wedding dress on that August day in 2016, the couple met with Pope Francis, talked with him and received a blessing. Even more astounding to them, they also left their meeting with the pontiff’s zucchetto, the white skullcap that a pope wears.

Scott had learned that there’s another special papal tradition: If someone has the same size of zucchetto as the pope, the pope will make a trade. So the couple had gone to Pope Francis’ personal tailor in Rome and bought a zucchetto of the same size. They were the only one of the 60 couples from around the world who arrived for the papal audience with a zucchetto. And when Scott offered him that one, Pope Francis tried it on, and made the exchange.

It was an incredible moment in a wonderful week of adventures in Rome, and Elisabeth believed there were more to come in her life with Scott.

Still, she wasn’t prepared for the unusual idea that Scott shared with her a year later, during a road trip to Chicago for fun.

‘What if we did …?’

As soon as Elisabeth heard his idea, she laughed, thinking he had to be joking.

Yet the more the couple talked and laughed about Scott’s idea to have a side business of making a line of socks featuring scenes and saints of the Catholic faith, the more Elisabeth realized how serious her husband was.

“Scott is a big sock guy,” she says. “As we’re driving up to Chicago, he started talking about how there’s a lot of feast days in the Church. He said, ‘What if we did socks with saints on them, and I didn’t have to wear hamburgers on my socks anymore?’ ”

After they returned from the Chicago trip, Scott made a rough, far-from-artistic sketch of the first pair of socks that he wanted to make. Fortunately, he has a friend, Madison Cipoletti, who does have artistic talent, and she made Scott’s sketch come to life—a pair of socks with the image, fittingly, of Pope Francis.

Scott found a manufacturer to make the socks, and the couple decided to try to sell them at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in 2017. At the time, Scott was the director of youth ministry for the archdiocese and heavily involved in running the conference.

“Pope Francis was super popular, especially with high school kids,” Scott says. “We thought if this brand is going to do something we have a test pool of 20,000 high school students to see if it has legs.”

Scott wanted to order 1,200 pairs of socks to try to sell at the conference. Elisabeth, who is more cautious and who would run the booth at the conference, told him he could order 600 pairs.

“We ended up selling out in eight hours and just sat around wishing we had more to sell,” Elisabeth says.

“We sold about a sock a minute,” Scott adds. “We knew we had a very viable product. We set up an online shop after that. We had pre-orders for socks we weren’t going to get for another month.”

That was the start of their company, Sock Religious.

Five years after that unlikely beginning, it’s even more startling how much their business has grown and expanded.

A touch of fun, a focus on faith

From that first pair of socks featuring Pope Francis, about 80 other pairs have been created, including ones of St. Joseph, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Francis of Assisi,

St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Joan of Arc and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Socks featuring the image of the rosary are also customer favorites.

The company also makes faith-related coffee mugs and T-shirts that combine touches of saintliness and whimsy. A shirt celebrating St. Peter includes his image and the phrase, “Classic Rock.” A shirt celebrating Pentecost pictures the disciples and proclaims, “We Got Spirit.” And one featuring St. Michael the Archangel advises, “Never Go Without Your Wingman.”

“We like to say the clientele for Sock Religious are people who take their faith seriously, but not themselves,” says Jeff Traylor, the company’s chief operating officer. “We come up with these funny ideas, laugh about them really hard, and then make a product out of it.”

In the first three years of Sock Religious, its supply of items was imported. In February of 2021, everything changed.

The company bought 10 sock-manufacturing machines from businesses in Indiana and North Carolina, all of which are functioning in a 10,000 square-foot facility on the south side of Indianapolis. And a staff of three people has grown to 26 employees, many of whom share the Catholic faith, including Scott, Elisabeth, Traylor and Cipoletti, who has continued to design many of the socks.

“Everything is done in-house now,” says Scott, the company’s chief executive officer.

To build the company, he left his position with the archdiocese, but he believes the philosophy that guides the business starts with the same foundation of his previous ministry.

“Working in full-time ministry, I always thought the most difficult part of the journey of evangelization is starting the conversation,” Scott says. “If we can get more people to initiate a conversation about faith and their journey, that’s going to put more people down that process of conversion and conversation.

“The tagline we’ve always used with Sock Religious is ‘starting conversations through joyful products.’ Our products don’t evangelize, people do. We just want to start conversations on faith and the lives of the saints.”

That leads Scott to share one of his favorite stories.

A story of soaring to new heights

It’s the story of a flight attendant and a passenger on a plane who were both at turning points in their faith lives.

On that day he boarded the plane, the passenger was wearing a pair of St. John Paul II

socks from Sock Religious. He also prayed to God to use him in whatever way he wanted that day.

The passenger later told Scott the story of how God did use him that day.

“The stewardess stopped him on his way out of the plane,” Scott says. “She said, ‘I just got to tell you, I’ve been away from my faith for quite some time, and I’ve been asking God for some sort of sign that he was present. And I said specifically, “Show me the pope.”

“And she saw this guy’s sock with an image of St. John Paul II on it. It was just a moment of affirmation for her and her faith. She was able to have a conversation after that and get her back on a path to a journey with God.”

Scott is amazed at the ways God and his saints can have an impact, even with socks.

“The thing that we’ve learned is yes, the socks start conversations, but it’s also become a way for people to get through difficult times,” he says.

“Whether it’s a treatment for cancer, a surgery, giving birth, job interviews—people have worn them, leaning on the saints in difficult times. We know people have been buried in our socks, which is a wild thing to think about. But like anything else, people depend on saints to get them through difficult times, and this is just a way that has manifested itself in a physical product.”

A soulful and sole-filled ride

After five years of startling growth, the business is striving to expand its reach.

Sock Religious has been integrated into a larger company called Catholic Concepts.

Under that umbrella company, there is also a business called States of Faith, which produces T-shirts for all 50 states, with the boundaries of a state outlined in a rosary and the crucifix over the state capital.

Catholic Concepts also offers a custom printing service for parishes and Catholic schools. And another business is Live Liturgically, a family-focused brand that revolves around a weekly, faith-related, planning calendar.

“We want a family to use it, to grow closer to each other, and grow closer in their faith, and lead their family where they’re called to lead them,” says Elisabeth, the company’s director of mission integration. “We’re just on the journey, too.”

In many ways, the journey has been both a wild and a blessed ride for the couple since that road trip to Chicago five years ago. As the business has grown, so has their family. Members of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, they are the parents of two children, 4 and 1.

One of the role models for their journey is featured in a large image that has a prominent place in the company’s office building. The framed painting depicts a young St. Joseph teaching his carpentry skills to Jesus as a boy.

“As a follower and a worker, St. Joseph has always been a patron in my life and my marriage,” Scott says.

While the journey that St. Joseph and Jesus took together with the Blessed Mother was always guided by God, Scott and Elisabeth also trust in God leading them.

“I think it’s very apparent that God will tell you when you’re going down the wrong path,” Scott says. “And God has continued to send the right people, the right work, the right clients, the right sales, the right everything, to continue to grow this business into what it is today, which is much more than socks.

“When I go to my high school reunion, people ask what I’m doing. I say, ‘I own the world’s largest Catholic sock company.’ You have to explain to people this is a viable business, and it’s doing good things in the Church. The things we are doing are fun, joyful, innovative, exciting. Is it a little goofy? Yeah, but so are we.” †

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