The Sock as Foot Soldier
Brands are stepping up with high-tech styles that go the extra mile.
Socks, whether they’re running marathons, hiking tough trails or just walking around the great outdoors, are continuing to refine themselves through technology and style. Regardless of activity, customers are demanding socks that are comfortable, form fitting, durable and versatile enough to run from the gym to the office. Customization continues to be a driving force. Some brands are even collaborating with specialty stores to create hyperlocal designs or branding products by purpose or activity to draw in customers. Advances in knitting techniques and new fibers are turning socks into superheroes for the feet — and for the environment. Here’s a look at what’s new for 2019.
Balega UltraLight (New & Improved), $13
Why: Manufactured in the USA, the revamped sock features Drynamix performance yarn, a triple “Y heel” construction that expands like a fan to cup the heel for a precise fit, extended cushioning in the heel and toe areas for durability and comfort without added bulk and three levels of elastication.
What’s Up: “For a number of seasons, we have moved toward a combination of natural and synthetic fibers and lighter weight construction. It is all about comfort and performance at the same time. We are pushing the boundaries by making the socks so comfortable that you hardly know you are wearing them and creating innovative solutions for some of the issues athletes struggle with.Also, consumers seem to be more interested in the technical aspects of the product than ever before.” — Tanya Pictor, VP–Marketing
CEP Run 2.0 Compression Sock, $59.99
Performance Athletic Compression
Why: Available in February 2019, the sock, which is made in the brand’s own factories, features medical graduated compression to facilitate blood flow back through the veins to the heart and helps stabilize the muscles.
What’s Up: “Colors and designs have been the trend; however, we produce graduated compression for improved circulation and quite frankly in true compression that can be a difficult trend to compete with since we are governed by standards for medical compression production. What we have done is work with new threads and construction techniques that have made our new 2.0 products comfortable and easier to get on and off. That is not a small thing with a real compression product. Seamless toes and anatomical construction for socks are well established. Thread and construction techniques will be the greatest area of improvement in the future. Time on the knitting machine is the largest factor in costs.” — Luke Rowe, Senior Vice President/General Manager
Darn Tough Vermont Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion
Outdoor Hike/Trek Performance
Why: The update of the Light Hiker, one of the brand’s more popular socks, is jam packed with technology. To maximize breathability, mesh zones were added on the top of the foot to work with Flex Zones that improve fit; a new reinforced cushioning was extended over the Achilles heel for added comfort when worn in a boot; and the smooth, narrow rib – it’s called 1X1 knitting – up the leg stays in place no matter how rough the trail.
What’s Up: “Lovers of the outdoors are seeking brands that demonstrate a commitment to be good stewards through environmental and material choices along with protection of garment workers. We see a focus on development of technological innovations to solve human-generated problems like pollution and textile waste with a mix of science and common sense. Natural fiber, bio-based and cradle-to-cradle sustainable materials are trending, and precision-engineered products are personalized to the consumer profiles and reduce post-industrial waste. Consumers are embracing micro-adventures as an affordable way to reconnect with the outdoors and friends; this is driving a philosophy of core products that are minimal and versatile that can shift from urban to outdoor spaces.”
Drymax Extra Protection Hyper Thin Running Sock, $23
Why: Working with top runners, including Jim Walmsley, Drymax created a thin flat-knit dual-layer foot-hugging design with strategic ventilation on the top of the foot and around the arch and PTEE in the forefoot and heel to eliminate friction.
What’s Up: “Style and perceived environmental benefits of natural fibers continue to drive a large segment of the market. However, Drymax is choosing to focus on technical advances in synthetic fibers, fiber durability, blister protection, antimicrobials and advanced proprietary knitting techniques. Drymax makes socks for the feet; the eyes are of secondary concern.” — Bob MacGillivray, Executive Vice President
Falke 4 Grip, $55
Why: Designed for fast-action athletes at professional and amateur levels, the sock features strategically positioned silicone nubs on the inside and outside of the footbed for more direct power transmission with every movement. A strategically engineered compression zone in the ankle area reduces the risk of twisting, an anatomical arch support ensures proper fit, a left toebox reduces unwanted bulk in the shoe and a three-layer structure and blend of performance fibers keeps the feet dry.
What’s Up: “The biggest trend is finding innovative ways to optimize the athlete’s performance. We are focusing on continual innovation to reduce the risks of injury and enhance performance.” — Tanya Pictor, Vice President of USA Sales and Marketing
Farm to Feet Bozeman, $21
Why: This three-quarter crew-height sock features ultra-soft 19.5-micron U.S. Merino wool knitted on a 200-needle machine and half-density cushioning throughout the foot bottom.
What’s Up: “Style continues to be a driver in the outdoor sock market. Customers are looking for technical socks with aesthetics that match their sense of style. Sock manufacturing is the original 3D printing because we take a 2D design and program a circular knitting machine to turn it into a 3D object using yarn as ink. Materials are where we see the most innovation, especially in the development of polyester yarns that echo the attributes of natural yarns. This could provide an opportunity to design and develop lighter socks with the same level of durability of socks that typically required reinforcement yarns.” — David Petri, Vice President of Marketing
Feetures! Elite Light Cushion No Show Tab, $15.99
Why: A patented technology called targeted compression uses an anatomical fit, lifts and arch supports for comfort and support.
What’s Up: “Customization is prevalent in the market in the form of sublimation printing and 360 printing and it will continue to gain momentum. The next big thing will be incorporating smart textiles into socks, whether it’s in the form of a topical treatment or inherent in the yarns. On the marketing side, we recently launched a sock to provide relief from plantar fasciitis pain and to help drive awareness, we put the sock in an oversized mock pill capsule with the instructions, ‘For Plantar Fasciitis Relief, Take Two.’ The capsules have been a hit at retail.” — Joe Gaither, Vice President of Marketing
Fox River Basecamp, NFZ, $18
Why: A lightweight hiker, the Merino blend sock is treated to protect against ticks, mosquitoes and other insects. It features Wick Dry Technology, a combination of strategic padding and mesh panels for comfort and a proprietary fit system.
What’s Up: “Fox River has made significant investments in technology to dramatically reduce the lead times and improve the ability to directly link the shop floor to the design group to reduce the layers to product development and design. This technology gives us the ability to look at 3D printing, sublimation or traditional knit in designs as we develop new products. We’re also seeing the use of recycled or repurposed yarns. There are a number of new suppliers working on unique yarns that have a great feel and have interesting features we are investigating.” — Bruce Barrows, Vice President for Business Development
Lorpen Lighter Hiker No Show, $14.99
Why: The brand’s first hiker in a no-show weight features T3 technology that has layers of performance yarns to optimize moisture management. In this case, a layer of Coolmax next to the skin is paired with a layer of outward-facing Tencel.
What’s Up: “Two trends are converging. First is user demand to have socks in a variety of heights loaded with technical features for top performance. Second is having more aesthetically pleasing designs in performance-oriented socks. Most consumers are unaware that graphic design compromises technical features on a sock. Socks that make a statement with elaborate prints are all the rage. The next big thing is to unify the worlds of printed designs with top performance features and materials without compromising on either front.” — Dakota Hyde, U.S. Sales Manager
OS1st BR4 Bunion Relief Sock, $24.99
Why: The first bunion-specific sock in the run specialty category has 200-needle seamless-toe construction. Its moderate compression reduces swelling and improves circulation. It features an extra-soft built-in pad to cushion the bunion, and its first and second toe separation eliminate friction, giving the area time to recover from chafing. It’s available in black or gray.
What’s Up: “With the decline of branded apparel sales within the independent market, what’s gained traction is the rise of the ‘sell-your-brand’ philosophy. Walk into any independent running store today and you will see them selling their brand. The trend of selling local themes, colors and patterns is only going to continue. It has already spilled over into the calf sleeve business at OS1st. Our fastest growing business is the Customization Programs Division. And now OS1st has the exclusive rights to distribute DC Comics’ Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Batman branded calf sleeves in the specialty market. The specialization trend and customer demand for locally themed hats, shirts and calf sleeves will continue to drive sales and could spill over into the sock category.” — Tommy Nason, OS1st National Sales Manager
Point6 37.5 Hiking Mixed Stripe Light Crew, $23.95
Why: The 69 percent New Zealand Merino wool sock enhances its shape, stretch and durability with a dynamic nylon called 37.5, which contains natural particles that increase the surface area of the fiber, allowing it to use body heat to evaporate moisture in vapor form before it becomes sweat. To address the concerns of runners, who require a thin sock for a precise fit, Point6 is launching Sport Support, a running sock redesign that offers more support around the ankle and arch and adds mesh zones for ventilation. The brand also is using compact spinning technology to produce a thinner fiber that is 25 percent more durable and less bulky.
What’s Up: “The next big thing is going to be greater levels of environmental responsibility. The latest initiative is a commitment to a plasma cleaning method called Naturetexx. Wool has to be cleaned before spinning, but the dominant ‘super washing’ process uses harsh chemicals like chlorine and produces toxic waste. Naturetexx is chemical-free and produces no toxic liquids for disposal.” — Mackenzie Yelvington, Sales/Marketing Coordinator
Sof Sole Perform 3pk No Show Tab, $9.99
Why: The sock, sold in a three-pack, is constructed with Invista’s Coolmax and features half cushioning, an arch band, mesh venting and a comfort toe seam.
What’s Up: “More times than not these days, it’s about marketing or the story that is presented about your product. We manufacturers are using the best yarns, techniques, designs, colors, etc. Or we go after a value at certain price points, but customers need multiple reasons why to buy. Stories move people — and the needle. We have all been in search of the perfect fit for a long time. A sock that when you put it on makes you want to throw everything else out of your sock drawer and make you say, ‘I’m done.’ Whether through design, construction, materials, etcetera, we, the industry, are pretty close and whoever lands it, will have a moniker we all covet.” —Brent Lamm, Senior Director of Product Development & Sourcing
Thorlo Express Yourself Calf, $15.99, and Crew, $14.99
Why: The socks offer protection in the forefoot and heel and have moisture-wicking properties. They also allow wearers to make a statement with their socks.
What’s Up: “Consumers want to be able to express their individuality in all aspects of what they wear. For years, kids have attached buttons to their backpacks and Thorlo is taking that same concept and attaching items to socks to let kids express who they are and what they love with their statement socks. Express Yourself, which allows them to do this, is the next big thing in customization.” — James Jesserer, Executive VP–Marketing and Sales
UA Run Cushion No Show and Crew, $13 to $17
Why: Designed for avid runners who desire the comfort of a cushion sans the bulk, UA’s no-show and crew feature a proprietary fiber blend in the footbed that’s made partly from recycled PET bottles. The socks also have an anatomically contoured fit, a reflective Under Armour logo and anti-odor and sweat-wicking technology.
What’s Up: “Socks are very feature specific to the particular sport or activity. A hard-core runner, for instance, doesn’t want a generic train sock; it’s the same with an elite basketball player. We’re seeing more use of sustainable materials and advanced yarn technologies and advancements in sublimation printing and direct-to-garment printing. 3-D printing will continue to influence new possibilities in hosiery and we’re seeing a resurgence in the purchase of multi-packs by consumers, which is typically a value buy, but the consumer is expecting high technology and product stories even within these price points.” — -Corey Crawford, Design Director
Wigwam Dendrite Lightweight, $19
Snow Ski and Snowboard
Why: This knee-high ski and snowboard sock features Wigwam’s patented Ultimax technology. It combines a polyester/Tencel foot bottom that is hydrophobic with a Merino leg that is hydrophilic to move moisture from the foot, up the leg and out the sock. It is knit to fit snugly around the ankle and stretch to fit in the calf. It has a wide cuff and a seamless toe closure to prevent slipping, bagging and hot spots.
What’s Up: “Basic lifestyle socks are a thing of the past. Consumers won’t put up with socks that sweat or bag or don’t fit. They’d rather wear an athletic sock that mitigates wet, uncomfortable feet for every day. Wigwam’s Peak2Pub category is an example of socks created for athletic, outdoor pursuits, but they are so comfortable they transition right to the pub afterward. We have applied on a patent for a new technology that will radically change hosiery for elite athletes. We can’t say more than that now, but we will keep you posted.” — Margaret Newhard, Director of Product
Zensah Donut Mini-Crew Compression Sock, $19.99
Performance Athletic Compression
Why: Made with compression using performance years, the mini-crew has zero cotton content.
What’s Up: “We see design as the next frontier. For many years, it was white, then black, then colors. Now people want to express themselves with socks and sleeves. We cannot keep up with the demand for new designs. We started out with the leg sleeves. Now we offer designs in four styles — No Show, Mini-Crew, Knee High and Leg Sleeves. We are working with running specialty stores to come out with designs only sold by them. This past summer, we launched a unicorn design and we helped drive consumers to stores. Even Track Shack in Orlando was shipping around the nation to runners who didn’t have the unicorn in stock at their local running stores. We plan on doing more exclusive collaborations with running specialty stores.” — Ze’ev Feig, CEO