Farm To Feet: One Sock Brand's Locavore Leanings
In 2013, OIA launched the Made in America Working Group as a forum for manufacturers to connect, share resources and communicate their needs and challenges related to domestic product sourcing, supply chains and production. Made up of more than 175 companies, the working group collaborates on topics ranging from the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for “Made in America” product labeling to the Berry Amendment. In addition, OIA has presented the Made in America Product Showcase at the last several Outdoor Retailer markets to raise the level of conversation around domestic manufacturing and to educate exhibitors, retailers and media on American manufacturing and American-made products. Among the brands showcased and demonstrating best practices in domestic production is Farm To Feet. Here’s their story.
Born to a family of North Carolina tobacco and cattle farmers, Marty Nester worked his way up from a knitting mechanic to a plant manager in regional textile mills over 20 years. So when he started his own mill, Nester Hosiery, in 1993, he knew a thing or two about growing raw materials and manufacturing. That’s a large part of why Nester thrived, rising from a cotton-sock manufacturer with aging equipment to a state-of-the-art mill churning out wool and high-performance outdoor socks for brands like Patagonia. By 2011, the company’s success prompted an inquiry into an obvious next step—and a formidable leap.
“We started exploring the idea of what it would look like if we were to create our own brand of socks,” says Dave Petri, vice president of marketing at Nester Hosiery. The challenge, however, was how to do that while differentiating from the socks already available in the marketplace. “That’s when we came up with this idea. As a hosiery mill, we’ve always manufactured here in North Carolina. Could we source all the yarn and materials from the United States and make a completely made-in-U.S.A. sock?”
“As a hosiery mill, we’ve always manufactured here in North Carolina. Could we source all the yarn and materials from the United States and make a completely made-in-U.S.A. sock?” —Dave Petri, vice president of marketing at Nester Hosiery.
The question sent the company on a quest for U.S.-made materials. They needed wool for the body of the sock, nylon to provide durability and structure and elastic or Lycra for stretch and compression. First, they set about finding the wool—the most difficult challenge. By global standards, the U.S. is a small wool producer, but Nester staffers discovered that there are some 80,000 ranchers here stateside. There was just one problem—to make high-quality socks, the company needed shrink-treated wool so that customers could wash the socks without turning them into garments fit for a doll. Ten years ago, there wasn’t a single facility in the U.S. that shrink-treated wool, so manufacturers were forced to send product abroad for treatment and then reimport it. But in a stroke of luck, just as Nester Hosiery began exploring the idea four years ago, textile processor Chargeurs opened a state-of-the-art shrink-treating facility in South Carolina.
“It was serendipitous that it all fell into place as we were developing this brand,” says Petri. The next task was to find nylon and elastic. “Once we started asking those questions of our suppliers, we were able to find that there indeed were supply chains for those materials.”
Nester could get nylon from a factory in the U.S., ship it to a facility that extruded it into nylon string, then bring it to a third factory that texturized it and formed it into a knittable yarn. They also sleuthed American-made elastic at a facility that could cover it with U.S.-made nylon.
In early 2013, at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, Nester Hosiery soft-launched the new concept and started taking orders. By summer OR, the company officially launched Farm to Feet, named as a play off the farm-to-table trend. Late that year, Nester shipped its first brand-name socks to about 40 retailers. By 2014, interest exploded and Farm to Feet socks hit the shelves in 170 brick-and-mortar shops and about five online stores. The company touts its socks not only as American-made but also of superior quality, with the natural wicking capability of wool, seamless toe construction and extra Lycra in the arch for compression.
In early 2013, at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, Nester Hosiery soft-launched the new concept and started taking orders. By summer OR, the company officially launched Farm to Feet, named as a play off the farm-to-table trend. Late that year, Nester shipped its first brand-name socks to about 40 retailers. By 2014, interest exploded and Farm to Feet socks hit the shelves in 170 brick-and-mortar shops and about five online stores.
A year later, Farm to Feet has expanded its lifestyle line and introduced socks for snow sports. The company is also working to refine the transparency of its supply chain so that it can also tell consumers the exact ranch their socks come from.
“There are different reasons why made-in-the-U.S.A. is important to people,” says Petri. “It could be a patriotic reason and wanting to support U.S. workers to the idea of knowing the products they purchased didn’t travel around the world. But it all stems from more and more people wanting to know where their products are coming from.”
Editor’s Note: Farm to Feet recently launched a campaign on their Instagram feed showcasing their supply chain practices and giving consumers a behind-the-scenes peek into the process of creating their products. Check out the Farm to Feet #OurSupplyStory here.
If you’re interested in joining the Made in America Working Group or want more information, contact OIA’s Government Affairs team at GA@outdoorindustry.org