Retired Navy Lt. Commander Anthony Cosby knows all about chasing purpose. He just never expected to find it in socks.
Growing up in rural Alabama, Cosby's first job was working the cotton fields for a family that was enslaved just a few generations before he was born. He did it every summer for five years before enlisting.
“I always say that the hardest day in the Navy was never as hard as one day working in those fields,” he said with a laugh. “I started as a Seaman Enlisted Recruit back in 1990. But I had an urge to do more even coming in at 17 years old.”
For Cosby, joining the Navy was a way to see the world. “It took me to Charleston and eventually to an opportunity to earn my officer’s commission,” he said.
After leaving the Naval Academy, Cosby was stationed in Texas as a recruiter. It was a unique challenge for the self-described introvert.
“I needed to do something to put me out there and force me to take down any walls I had,” Cosby explained. “Recruiting was an opportunity where I thought I could help change lives because I knew what the Navy had done for that 17-year-old kid from Alabama.”
He became one of the top Navy recruiters in the nation.
It wasn’t all good for Cosby, though. A swimming accident caused him to break his neck in eight places. Miraculously, he wasn’t paralyzed and survived. “I was laid up in bed for five months to heal up. It was a big time of reflection for me. It was when I knew there was a bigger picture and bigger calling than what I was doing outside of the Navy,” he said.
Cosby retired from the Navy after 21 years of service in 2012, not long after getting married and having a little girl.
“For us it was like life starting all over again in our 40s. It was really cool,” he said.
But with the good came some surprising challenges. Cosby said his transition was much harder than he had anticipated or was prepared for. Eventually, he was led into roles mentoring student veterans which he enjoyed, and thrived.
After attending his first VET Edge event and spending five minutes with Matthew Griffin, who founded Combat Flip Flops while deployed to Afghanistan, Cosby was motivated to make a change and do something new. “Entrepreneurship is so rewarding and just really fills your heart. I think that’s why I fell in love with it. It has so much that can be offered,” he shared.
While maintaining his role at Syracuse University within the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Cosby eventually co-founded STZY. “It doesn’t stand for anything but really means you have elegance with your style and with your fitness,” he said with a smile. The company was focused on one product: socks.
The reasoning, Cosby said, was to simplify things and go all in on one thing he believed in. With a passion for fitness, socks made sense. The goal was to create a high quality product geared toward athletes. “We came up with STZY and it took about eight months to get it ready to go to market and we launched on March 21, 2021,” he said.
STZY sold out of the product within months of launching.
The company is now a certified pending B Corporation and remains committed to giving back. Each month the team chooses a new school or student athlete to sponsor.
When he looks back on his early years and Navy service it’s now hard to fathom how far he’s come. “The family that I worked with in Alabama was a Black family and have owned those cotton fields since 1856,” Cosby explained.
The original owner had purchased it all from his former slave owner and father. Now five generations strong, it's his hope to bring everything full circle and use cotton from those Alabama fields for STZY socks.
His advice for the veteran or military spouse thinking about starting a business is simple: do it with passion and then pay it forward, too.
“Don’t be afraid to go chase something that’s five years away but the work you are putting in now is going to help you obtain that dream or goal. It’s okay. You can’t make Admiral overnight but as an entrepreneur you can become a CEO overnight,” Cosby said. “Always go back and help someone else -- that’s how we are going to build thriving entrepreneurship opportunities as veterans and military family members.”
To learn more about STZY, click here.