ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - During his time as a student manager for the UCF men's basketball team, Rob Starkman unsuccessfully searched and searched for black and gold Nike Elite socks, so he created his own. Two years later, his Rock `Em Apparel company has gained a huge following across the world and is churning out creative sock designs, along with clothing and accessories.
Athletic socks have traditionally featured a simple look, with the majority of socks being a single color. Being around the game in his role with the Knights, Starkman realized that socks had the potential to be a more important part of the wardrobe.
"I know the people who buy the shoes, buy the shirt, the hat and the shorts that match," Starkman said. "It seemed like they were only wearing plain socks. I wondered why we couldn't turn that into another staple of your outfit. We wanted to bring more personality than just a plain, white sock."
In only 24 months, Rock `Em has grown from utilizing eBay to its own website - RockEmApparel.com - that attracts almost 20,000 visitors each day. Starkman and his team of employees, including three other former UCF basketball managers and several UCF alums, have created hundreds of designs from their Orlando headquarters. The designs range from the timely (think NBA All-Star jersey inspired) to offbeat ("The Close Encounters" feature the American flag with Earth in the backdrop, and an alien invasion).
"Many things inspire the design," Starkman said. "I'll see somebody wearing a shirt with a pattern on it and I'll write it down. Most of the designs come from the shoes that they correlate with. We never try to make a sock that clashes with the shoe. We often try to accentuate the smaller details in the shoe."
In the fall, Rock `Em started partnering with college and high school teams to create unique socks that match each school's color scheme. When UCF hosted Miami in December for Military Appreciation Day, the Knights wore Rock `Em's digital camo socks.
That led to a partnership with UCF Athletics that will be on display when the Knights conclude the home portion of their schedule Saturday against No. 17 Memphis. In recognition of senior day, Rock `Em has created special socks to honor Keith Clanton. Fans at the UCF Arena will have the chance to win the limited edition socks, which are not available for sale, throughout the game.
Starkman says that the socks are a great way to honor Clanton, one of the best players in program history, who has displayed great growth, loyalty and character throughout his UCF career.
Since its start in 2011, Rock `Em has quickly grown as well. The company's social media presence is strong with almost 85,000 fans on Facebook and 25,000 followers on Instagram. Orders have come from around the world and Starkman is now looking to increase the company's apparel line.
Starkman attributes much of Rock `Em's success to the lessons he learned during his time as a UCF basketball manager and says that he will be proud on Saturday to partner with his alma mater on the special socks.
"I definitely can say that if I had not been a manager, I would not have this business. I learned a lot from the coaching staff, not just basketball, but business and management, too. I met a lot of great people and was around the sport and culture as much as possible."