Archive for the 'Socks' Category

06
Apr
16

The Sock Queen of Alabama – The New York Times

When the onetime sock capital of the world’s industry collapsed, it was “like a vacuum cleaner pulled all the people out of town.” But then Gina Locklear had an idea.

The Sock Queen of Alabama

written by Steven Kurutz in the New York Times

Source: The Sock Queen of Alabama – The New York Times

The Sock Queen of Alabama

FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Nine years ago, when she was 27 and unhappily selling real estate, Gina Locklear went to her parents with a proposition. She wanted to make socks. Not the basic white socks the family had specialized in, but fashionable socks, with organic cotton and dyes.

“I want to get into the sock business,” she told them. “I want to make a sustainable sock.”

Ms. Locklear, now 36, grew up in the business. Her parents, Terry and Regina Locklear, started a mill in Fort Payne, Ala., in 1991. They made white sport socks for Russell Athletic, millions of them, destined for big-box stores and your own feet if you took gym class.

Gina’s younger sister, Emily, recalled the girls going to the mill after school, where they helped their parents sort socks into dozens or played in the bins. Named after the two daughters, Emi-G Knitting bought the Locklears a house, bought Terry a vintage Corvette and paid for the girls’ college educations.

Still, the idea of Gina and her parents making organic fashion socks, or any socks at all, seemed totally crazy, given the time and place.

The mid-2000s was a devastating period for Fort Payne. Nestled in the state’s mountainous northeast, the town of 14,000 had for decades billed itself as “the Sock Capital of the World.” The cushioned sock was invented here, and one in every eight pairs of socks sold globally was said to be knitted in Fort Payne.

A Photo of WB Davies Hosiery Mill, 1933

A Photo of WB Davies Hosiery Mill, 1933

At the industry’s peak in the 1990s, more than 120 mills employed roughly 7,500 workers. But cheap foreign labor and free-trade agreements made the town a loser in the game of global economics. Seemingly overnight, the mills closed, and the new Fort Payne became a town in China called Datang. The 2008 financial crisis finished off those who were still hanging on.

“It was like a vacuum cleaner pulled all the people out of town,” Terry said.

The Locklears held on to their mill, but barely. Orders dried up, including those from Russell Athletic, and they cut the work force to almost nothing. Terry’s goal was to keep the lights on, because he knew if he and Regina closed the doors and turned the power off, they’d never start back up.

“We’d just come here and sit,” Terry said. “We would talk, and it was, like, ‘I just don’t know what we’re going to do.’ We still had our knowledge.”

It was during these depths that Gina approached her parents with her idea. While almost everyone else in the sock business was being thrown to the exits, she passionately wanted in. “I was 12 when my parents started making socks,” Gina said. “And the realization that our family business might close made me mad.”

Her parents were skeptical. They knew how hard it was to compete and how much money it would take to start a brand. They didn’t get the whole organic thing. Most of all, they didn’t want their oldest daughter to do something she’d soon regret or tire of.

“But it’s been everything except any of that,” her father said.

Her mother added: “She absolutely loves what she does. She’s on fire.”

When you hear the words textile mill, you may picture a brick building a century old and as big as a city block. You may hear the clack-clack of jittery machinery. But Emi-G Knitting is a modern contained operation in a squat metal building on the outskirts of Fort Payne.

One recent morning, Gina was in her office, working on spring orders. She produces two lines: Zkano, an online brand she started in 2008, and Little River Sock Mill, which was started in 2013 and is sold in stores like Margaret O’Leary in Manhattan.

Zkano’s “crews” and “no shows” are a youthful riot of stripes and colors, while the Little River socks are more refined (the fall line was based on Southern quilt patterns). Both cost $13 to $30 a pair.

A "Mood Board" of socks, patterns and styles

A “Mood Board” of socks, patterns and colors hangs in Gina Locklear’s office at Emi-G Knitting

Going organic (the cotton comes from a farm in Lubbock, Tex., the dyes from North Carolina) has given Gina a marketing niche. Her socks appeal to millennials, who study labels and like a compelling origin story.

“I’m not sure most customers can detect it, but it’s certainly a bonus that they’re made from organic cotton — it adds a point of difference,” said Billy Reid, the Alabama-based men’s wear designer, who partnered with Gina to make socks based on his designs.

Last fall, Martha Stewart and the editors of Martha Stewart Living presented Gina with an American Made award, which they give each year to a few artisans and small-business owners to provide a boost of recognition.

“Encouraging the American public to buy American-made matters,” Ms. Stewart said. “The more socks she sells, the more people she can employ.”
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Besides, “It’s a sensible business,” Ms. Stewart said. “Everyone needs socks. Women are wearing socks as a fashion statement like never before. Turn the pages of Vogue and almost every fancy dress is worn with a pair of socks.”

Indeed, the humble sock is having a moment. Brands like Stance Socks, which partnered with Rihanna on a collection, and Slate & Stone are selling vibrant hosiery, or pop socks, while Miu Miu recently outfitted runway models in marled and argyle socks.

Gina plans to introduce men’s socks to Little River this fall. Zkano already offers them. Tony Hale’s character on “Veep” wears Zkano socks, as does the actor himself.

Gina notices socks everywhere she goes, and in winter wears two pairs, one during daytime, another to bed. Her office décor is entirely hosiery-related: spools of candy-colored yarn on a shelf, mateless samples pinned to corkboards.

She lives with her husband, Al Vreeland, in Birmingham, Ala., an hour and a half’s drive away, and spends part of each week in Fort Payne, staying in her childhood bedroom. Her husband, a lawyer, is “cool” with the arrangement, she said, adding, “It’s been this way ever since we started dating.”

They were married three years ago, during the busy holiday season, at a chapel in Santa Fe, N.M., on a Saturday. “We came home on Sunday,” she said. “And then I went to Fort Payne on Monday. And that’s my life.”
Inspection of socks                                                           Ms. Locklear looks on as Rhonda Whitmire inspects socks. If there is a customer service issue, Ms. Locklear handles it herself — in addition to ordering yarn, designing both lines, doing social media marketing, processing credit card orders and lying awake nights with worry.

When she’s at the mill, her focus is on the knitting machines and whether they are aiding or conspiring against her. The machines are aqua blue and boxy like ovens. Above them, a halo of metalwork holds the yarn being fed into their bellies. Gina watched a machine work, and after a moment, in a Willy Wonka flourish, a plastic tube spit out an orange-striped sock.

“I love that,” she said.

Pointing to a machine that was noticeably different from the others, she said: “It’s the newest sock machine you can get. It’s made in Italy. It’s like a Ferrari.”

She spotted Vance Veal, Emi-G’s plant manager, and waved him over. When her parents laid off all but their most vital workers, they kept him on the payroll. Mr. Veal, 48, has worked in sock mills since he was 18. His grandparents, mother and brothers worked in the mills, too.

Since Gina came along with her six-color fashion socks, he has made the machines do things no one at Emi-G thought possible, himself included. “We didn’t used to make pattern socks,” Mr. Veal said. “Gina keeps me on my toes. She’s made me better at what I do.”

In a honeyed voice, Gina said, “Vance is the most patient person ever.”

With Mr. Veal’s expertise, Gina can make socks in small batches on site, fine-tuning and experimenting with colors, patterns and materials. It’s a competitive advantage. But running a sock mill in the age of globalization is a “roller coaster,” she said. Her parents’ business making specialty athletic socks now comes in fits and bursts, nothing like the steady, profitable Russell contract. And Zkano and Little River don’t yet sell enough to sustain the mill alone.

Last year, Emi-G downsized its work force from 45 to 30. If there is a customer service issue, Gina handles it herself — in addition to ordering yarn, designing both lines, doing social media marketing, processing credit card orders and lying awake nights with worry.

“If something happened to Vance, I wouldn’t know what we would do,” she said later. “When the sock industry left, a lot of the workers left town, and their knowledge left, too.”

 

 Vance Veal runs the day-to-day operations at the Emi-G mill. When Ms. Locklear’s parents laid off all but their most vital workers, they kept him on the payroll. Mr. Veal, 48, has worked in sock mills since he was 18. His grandparents, mother and brothers worked in the mills, too. Credit Raymond McCrea Jones for The New York Times

Vance Veal runs the day-to-day operations at the Emi-G mill. When Ms. Locklear’s parents laid off all but their most vital workers, they kept him on the payroll. Mr. Veal, 48, has worked in sock mills since he was 18. His grandparents, mother and brothers worked in the mills, too. Credit Raymond McCrea Jones for The New York Times

Gina and her parents drove into town to have lunch at what’s referred to in Fort Payne as the Big Mill. Now an antique store and restaurant, the Big Mill is indeed a century-old brick building as big as a city block. It’s where W. B. Davis ran the town’s first hosiery mill in the early-1900s. It’s the building that begot an industry.

Over pimento cheese sandwiches, Terry and Regina recalled their beginnings. Terry’s mother had worked in a mill, and his older brother owned one. When he was miserable selling cars down in Tuscaloosa, it seemed natural to come home and try socks.

Asked if the current building was their original location, Terry, who is 71 and has a bashful charm, said: “No. I’m almost ashamed to tell you. We started in a renovated chicken house.”

There was no air-conditioning. In the summer, they would open the big doors on both ends to get a little breeze going. “Birds would fly through while we worked,” Terry said.

With so few mills left in Fort Payne, Gina and her parents are now the old guard. But with the industry’s diminishment, they carry little of the economic or civic power of the mill owners before them.

Framed portraits of men like Mr. Davis and W. H. Cobble Sr. hang inside the Hosiery Museum, in a historic storefront downtown. The photo of V. I. Prewett, the founder of Prewett Mills, shows a gray-haired man holding a pair of tube socks.

Among the museum’s historic machinery is a brass whistle on a pole that was once used to signal the start of the workday at the Big Mill. In the morning darkness, said Olivia Cox, the vice president of landmarks for DeKalb County, Ala., the mountainside behind the factory appeared “lit by fireflies,” with the workers “walking down footpaths by lantern light to get to the Big Mill before that whistle blew.”
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Everyone in Fort Payne was touched by the hosiery industry in some way. That night, Gina stopped for dinner at a barbecue place in town; the young man behind the counter had worked in a machine shop that repaired the type of knitters Emi-G uses. His name was Bo Doeg.

He and Gina got to reminiscing about Hosiery Week, a yearly festival that Mr. Doeg described as “Mardi Gras — but for socks.”

Mr. Doeg shook his head. “This is a different world than it used to be,” he said. “Have you seen the vast number of empty buildings?”

Gina was back at the mill by 8:30 the next morning, logging orders from store buyers and considering ideas for the next Little River line, which she develops with a designer in Birmingham. “We’re thinking about Appalachian florals,” she said.

She talked about the challenges she faces, from getting organic cotton at a good price to wanting a family but not knowing how, since she spends so much time at the mill. “I’ll just be honest, it’s been a struggle,” she said.

But she is determined to keep going, to make Fort Payne a place where socks are once again made by the millions.

“It’s hard every day but I still love it,” she said. “It’s what I want to do forever.”

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

From the ashes of the closed Russell Athletic sock mill, raised the Phoenix, in the form of Zkano socks. I love these types of stories – stories of coming back, the stories of small companies and not large multi-national corporations that churn out tons of clothing items per day. And Zkano socks are organic as well everything made in the USA.

14
Jan
14

Stem Socks

For those of you who love “The Big Bang Theory”, there is a collection of science oriented socks made by Stem Socks. I found Stem Socks when I was visiting the San Jose Tech Museum ( I was visiting the Star Wars Exhibit) when I came across them in the tech store. I find them quite amusing. They have designs of: DNA; Radioactivity; Jellyfish; Bacterium; Floppy Disc; Biohazard; Morse Code; and Phases of the Moon.

Stems Socks Radioactivity

Stems Socks
Radioactivity

Stem Socks (STEM is the abbreviations for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are all made in the United States. And 2% of the sales are donated to a non-profit organization that encourages students to obtain knowledge in the sciences.

Stem Socks DNA

Stem Socks DNA

The logo for Stem Socks is made out of four amino acids: Serine, Threonine, Glutamine and Methionine – their one word abbreviation also spell out STEM.

Be a rebel, and wear some nerdy socks!

28
Jun
12

On the Tee Novelty Socks: Made in the USA

On The Tee

Yesterday, I ran into a little shop in Carmel, (pronounced Kar – Mell’, not pronounced like in ‘carmel’ apples as they say in Carmel, Indiana), California. This shop, Sockshop Carmel and Wicks & Wax, sold candles on one side and socks on the other half of the shop. And in the sock portion, I found these golf socks by a company I had not heard of before, called On the Tee.

The 19th Hole Golf socks

On The Tee

On the Tee was started in 1993 and all of its products are made in the USA. Their biggest seller are golf socks.

Angry Golfer

The Clubhouse

St. Andrews

Turnberry

On the Tee also sells women’s golf socks. There are several styles: ones with Swarovsky Crystals, invisible socks, cushioned socks, applique Low-Rider, applique Quarter socks as well as children’s socks. Below are a couple examples:

Swarovski Crystal Golf socks

Invisible socks

On the Tee also sell women’s hats and visors. On the Tee is headquartered in Tarzania, California. They can be found at a few select stores and can also be purchased on the internet, see the link above.

On the Tee hats

14
Feb
12

Socks – Who Cares About Socks? (Socks Made in America) and Listing

In Silicon Valley, Socks Make the Tech Entrepreneur – NYTimes.com. This is a link to the New York Times article written on February 3, 2012 demonstrating that certain socks may be in fashion.

Mainpoint: Socks made in USA, and the history of socks.

Is there any been any better creation than socks? Is there anything warmer than thick, fuzzy, cozy socks? Is there anything more wonderful than getting a nice new pair of socks from under the Christmas tree? The answer to these questions is “Yes, of course, multiple things”. Well, then… how about the role socks have played in American history? Like George Washington’s socks? No, sorry, there is no story there, no sock has ever helped win a war. Hmm…dead end. How about some unusual facts about socks? Did you know that socks were originally sold as three in case one was lost or destroyed? No, of course you didn’t, because I just made it up. Well, then, how many times did Sherlock Holmes solve a case because of a sock? How many detective stories are there about socks like “The case of the Missing Sock”? I think the answer would be very close to zero.

How popular are socks? I mean almost everybody wears them, right? But, there was not one commercial about socks during the SuperBowl. (They should have shown this one: skittles tube sock commercial.) Have you seen any commercials that say “Have you bought your loved ones red socks for Valentines Day”? I guess maybe it is hard to get worked up about socks. I mean no preacher has ever demonized the existence of socks, maybe stockings, yes, and definitely underwear, whether you are wearing them or not. “You can be saved and avoid unending purgatory if you just rid your existence of them demon socks. They are the devil’s instruments that takes you into the land of forbidden pleasures.” No, it just doesn’t work. But I like the thought of evil socks making you walk into somewhere you wouldn’t go. ” I was just walking, minding my own business, when my evil socks made me walk into the strip club.” Lets face it, socks are the under-appreciated down-under cousin of everyday wear. So, this would be my slogan for socks: “Socks, they are what they are.”

History of Socks

No mind-numbingly boring account would be complete without the history of something. So, here is the history of socks. Now, first off, we are not talking about faux socks like some accounts give which are actually primitive shoes, or hose or wrappings. When I am talking about socks, I mean an article of clothing with an opening in one end and stitched up at the other end which somehow ends up resembling the foot. The sock gets its name from the Latin word “soccus” meaning loose fitting slipper. (It sounds like I am making that up but just check Wikipedia if you believe what it says). It is believed that socks may have been present with some of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but definitely present by 300 to 500 AD. Socks were used to keep the feet warm under the sandals and probably offered some padding as well. Not that much has changed in that respect. Socks are still for warmth, comfort, protection of the foot and shoe. Now, how about the fashion of socks? Socks first became a fashion statement in 15th Century Europe and coincided with the officially ending of “The Dark Ages”. That’s right, my hypothesis is that fashionable socks ended the Dark Ages. Pope Gregory XII  liked socks so much that it created a schism in Rome, the other cardinals kicked him out and they didn’t have a Pope for two years and that’s how the Dark Ages ended. True or not, it is a good story. It’s as good of a story as the Bureau of Missing Socks. Fashion for socks have been a hit and miss proposition, they were big when Argyle socks came in, especially with golfers and their knickers, and again in the 1950s with the bobby socks. And possible a slight come back according to the NY Times link on top of the page.

As for me, I have been discouraged over the years of losing one sock, whether it gets stuck to the inside of clothes, gets sucked up through the washing machine, or lost in the transport to or from the laundry, that over the last 15 years, I have resorted to buying 6 to 8 identical pairs of socks at the same time (usually black crew socks and white crew socks) and then just replace the entire units every 6 months to a year or so. I do buy special socks at times, but really only for special occasions like costume parties or for a certain outfit. But basically it is either white or black crew socks. I really don’t like searching for socks.

Socks Made in America

For many years, the United States has been the world’s number one maker of socks. That was until the United States started outsourcing everything since the 1980’s, but especially the past two decades. The United States still makes quite a few socks, compared to something like underwear. In fact, in some clothing stores where everything they have is made by slave labor, one may still find socks made in the USA, places like J.Jill or J. Crew, Ann Taylor, or Jos. A. Bank. You can check out my blog entry,”Listing of American clothing brands-retail” for the listing of sock manufacturers made in the USA. (or I will just reprint them here, updated May 5, 2013):

  1. Aerosoles
  2. Aetrex
  3. Alaskan Nits
  4. Alleson
  5. American Apparel
  6. Ann Taylor
  7. Anne Klein
  8. Bass
  9. b.ella
  10. Bright Q. T. Feet
  11. Brooks Brothers
  12. Callaway
  13. Canyon Ridge
  14. Catherine Cole
  15. Celestine Stein
  16. Champion
  17. Charter Club
  18. Chippewa Boots socks
  19. Club Room
  20. Dahlgren
  21. Dapper Classics
  22. Darn Tough
  23. Defeet
  24. Doctor Scholl’s
  25. Dry Max
  26. e.g. smith
  27. Ellen Tracy
  28. Evergreen
  29. FBF Green
  30. Feet
  31. Fits Sock Co.
  32. For Bare Feet
  33. For Sox
  34. Foot Joy
  35. Fox River
  36. Franklin
  37. Fruit of the Loom
  38. George
  39. Golden Toe
  40. Good Hen
  41. Gumball Poodle
  42. Hanes
  43. Harbor Bay
  44. Hollista
  45. Hot Socks
  46. Hue
  47. Icebreakers
  48. J. Crew
  49. J. Jill
  50. Jones New York
  51. Jos. A. Bank
  52. Justin Boots socks
  53. Keen
  54. Lauren
  55. Life is Good
  56. Loft
  57. Maggie’s
  58. Nautica
  59. New Balance
  60. Nicole Miller
  61. Nike
  62. Non Binding Socks
  63. Nordtroms
  64. North Country
  65. Nouvella
  66. Orvis
  67. Patagonia
  68. Pearl Izumi
  69. Polar
  70. Power Sox
  71. Pro Feet Inc.
  72. Red Maple Socks
  73. REI
  74. Rock n Socks
  75. Roundtree & Yorke
  76. Smartwool
  77. Sock Guy
  78. Socktrot
  79. Sockwell
  80. Sol Socks
  81. Sole Sox
  82. Sole U Tion
  83. Sox Trot
  84. Starter
  85. Straw Foot
  86. Sweet Marcel
  87. Swift Wick
  88. Thurlo
  89. Tie Dye Heaven Bamboo Socks
  90. Wheel House
  91. Wigwam
  92. Wilson (rare)
  93. Wolverine
  94. Woolrich
  95. World’s Softest Socks
  96. Wright Socks
  97. Xantera
  98. Zella
  99. 14th & Union

Conclusion

Socks: you can live with them or you can live without them, it doesn’t matter, but they are a nice little convenience.- original quote.

“Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins you can’t imagine the smell.” – Robert Byrne




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