March 04, 2020 7 min read 126 Comments
As an upstart American Made brand, our purpose has always been to make high-quality, long-lasting products and to reinforce domestic manufacturing. We have been able to do that by shouldering the responsibility of making our own products.
In a few months, we’ll be introducing new GRIP6 Merino wool socks. Whenever we tell that to people we get the same question.
First, socks are important. Like belts, they’re one of the unsung heroes of what we wear. If you stop to think about it, we ask a lot from our socks. We require them to be durable, comfortable, breathable, stylish, and hopefully not break the bank.
Second, when our feet feel good, we feel good. We tend to give shoes too much credit. The truth is, a great pair of wool socks make your feet comfortable regardless of the shoe you wear, and make standing, running, walking, etc, rather enjoyable. Conversely, a bad pair of socks will quickly make your feet feel terrible.
Perhaps the most important reason we dove in was simply because we could. That may sound odd, but America’s textile manufacturing capability has withered to the point where many products cannot be made in the USA. We’ve been able to pull sock production entirely in-house, almost immediately, without relying on a manufacturer in another country that will hamstring our ability to innovate. We’ve already made in-roads to sourcing wool within the Rocky Mountains (which is harder than you think!), and we’ve been able to domestically source all the other fibers, dyes, and packaging. For us, that’s a big deal.
Different Product - Same Recipe
We’ve been looking for opportunities to offer more to our customers. We wanted to apply the GRIP6 secret sauce to a new product line to see if our recipe of in-house manufacturing, high quality construction, and lifetime guarantee, would result in another product that people love.
We wanted to develop something we knew we could improve over time, that would significantly increase our manufacturing ability. Selfishly, we wanted to make something that we love to use ourselves. After narrowing down the options, we decided on socks. We have an exceptional engineering department and an innovative design team (and, honestly, we love wool socks) so making socks made sense.
We’ve been making great belts for five years now. We pride ourselves on their quality and how long they last. From the very beginning we have offered a lifetime guarantee. We’ve designed them to be incredibly comfortable, made from domestically sourced materials, and we manufacture them right here in Utah.
Our socks will be exactly the same: Comfortable, high quality, look great and we’ll guarantee them for life.
Our Journey Into The Sock Industry
Months before purchasing our own machines, our plan was to dip our toes into the water a bit and partner with another sock manufacturer. We wanted to offer some quality socks to our customers without the capital hit required to outfit our own sock manufacturing facility. This would have allowed us to test the market and prove to ourselves we could be successful before going full bore. To that end, we contacted several American sock manufacturers to get pricing, tour their facilities, and see what it would take to get started. We quickly learned it wasn’t a great solution. Larger companies with good operations were slow, entrenched in layers of corporate structure that made them unwilling to consider alternative solutions to supply chain problems. In addition to that, the wool colors were limited, the costs were excessive, and the justification for those costs was pretty flimsy.
The most depressing part was when we presented what we thought were great designs and styles to the manufacturers, we kept getting the answers, “we can’t make that” or “that’s going to be too expensive.” We believe that in order for American Manufacturing to progress and reinvent itself (and, by extension, all manufacturing), we need to take a hard look at innovation and be willing to break processes that are keeping us in the past.
This “soft launch” approach was steering us toward an alliance with an industry that seemed ripe for disruption, something we didn’t want to do. In fact, over a three year period it would cost us less to simply purchase our own sock knitting machines, software, raw materials and all other supporting machinery, than it would to purchase the socks from another company.
So that’s exactly what we did. We doubled down and went full GRIP6 on the sock project.
Once we began diving into the sock industry, we discovered an enormous amount of information we needed to gather, process and understand. We pulled our sleeves up and got to work, learning the technical construction of socks, the various raw materials, the supply chains and processes of those materials, the costs, the knitting machines, the software, the washing and drying, the sizing, the testing, the boarding machines, the designing, etc.
To be honest, I completely love this part of the process. For me it’s exciting to start with a clean slate and build a new foundation from nothing. We aren’t hindered by anything except our imaginations. But this is also the most challenging part. It can be slow, difficult, and filled with delays, obstacles and problems; it’s rewarding! There’s something deeply satisfying about slowly, steadily increasing in knowledge, expertise and capability. It’s knowing that you are in control of your future and the only thing between you and success is a lot of hard work.
It would be arrogant to say that our first line of socks will be the best socks ever made. We can’t fake a century of knowledge in six months. We know we’re new to this and our competitors have been making socks for a long time, but we have a solid plan. By purchasing the best machines available, receiving training from industry veterans and sourcing a high quality wool/nylon blend, we’re about 80% of the way there. We are putting our reputation on the line by offering the same Lifetime Guaran-damn-tee on our socks. That’s our way of telling our customers that we’re in this together, and while we can’t become experts overnight, we can guarantee that we’re working harder than any other company to get there. We promise to be relentlessly innovative in construction, design, and style.
The Game Plan
Every lofty dream needs a good plan and here is ours: First, we have to fully understand sock construction. This is a critical step to making high quality socks that look great, feel great, and fit with the GRIP6 brand. We will be pushing ourselves to master the machines and software. Second, we’ll thoroughly test our prototypes both in the lab and in the field. Third, we’ll design some great looking patterns and styles for a limited release this summer. We’re very close to accomplishing this, and we expect a release by June (mark the calendars for a Father’s Day gift). Finally, we plan to expand our sock line over the next six months, both in style and quality, so that by Christmas, we can introduce a full line of socks. As always, we’ll test, test, test, analyze, and innovate! The sock you buy this year is going to facilitate an even greater sock next year, and so on. As part of our GRIP6 promise to you, we will not rest on laurels, and you can expect better and more innovative socks, belts, and wallets in the years to come.
Our Current Progress
Right now, we’re in the thick of learning the limitations of the knitting machines. From an engineering perspective, they’re impressive. They’re basically high-tech robots with their own custom software, similar to a CNC mill. This combination of hardware and software produces a wide range of customized sock possibilities. Socks can be both highly customized and mass produced. They are built upon decades of experience utilizing the highest quality materials and last millions of cycles.
Prototype designs abound
A few months ago we created our very first sock! While that was awesome, it was not how we planned to enter the market. We have sourced our initial materials and dissected many socks, (think Junior High frog dissection!). Since then we have moved on to creating new designs and styles.We are giving our prototype socks away to customers who stop by our shop so they can test them and give us their feedback. We are in the middle of a series of tests where we are producing every single type of sock and every feature our machine can do. It has helped us better understand what is possible and what is useful.
The software is complex and has been challenging, but we are beginning to develop a process for sock creation, from concept to finished product. It has taken a team of talented people working closely together to make it all happen. We’re learning like crazy and making some solid prototypes. We’re dedicating thousands of hours to get these socks as close to perfect as possible. As anyone who has ever owned a great pair of socks will tell you, the difference they make is worth the extra effort it takes to make one.
The Past and the Future
As we continue our journey learning to manufacture socks, we realize that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants that went before us. We’ve benefited from centuries of machine innovations, supply chains, and design tools. We recognize that they have smoothed the road before us. We appreciate and thank them.
The hosiery industry in the United States is a shadow of what it once was. Many of the industry veterans we have worked with and learned from feel like the industry is at the edge of extinction. The past several decades have seen a steady decline in domestic sock manufacturing companies. Only a few are left. It would be a tragedy to let all that knowledge, expertise and infrastructure go away. While there is reason for concern, we believe there is also reason for hope. Much has changed in the world of commerce in the last 30 years and GRIP6 was built on a modern platform that gives us more options to connect with customers all over the world. We are hopeful that some of the technology available today will help us succeed where others struggled. Using these tools, We hope to do some small part to not only sustain, but to grow sock manufacturing expertise in this country.
So get excited for GRIP6 socks!!!