The Athletic Sock Scene
What’s Next for Wearables: A Wardrobe of Smart Products
Specific sports can call for specific socks. Historically, “running and cycling require bold color and pattern as a baseline for entry,” says Molly Cuffe, director of global communications for Smartwool. Meanwhile, hiking collections tend to be more classic in aesthetic as “we tend to take our color cues from more nature-inspired palettes,” notes the exec. Studio is an evolving category with gripper technology and graduated compression at the forefront, with some brands benefiting in category crossover. Here are some other trend pockets that brand execs are seeing in marketplace.
“When hiking, efficiency and less bulk are key,” according to Cuffe. Smartwool’s PhD Outdoor Approach Mini and Crew have targeted cushioning for a smoother fit in boot. Shock absorption and technical factors are also important, she notes, as some elite trail runners and long distance hikers opt for more non-traditional hiking shoes (read: more trail running-type footwear). Eurosock has relaunched its brand with a new logo and tagline “mountain lifestyle,” placing emphasis on its adventurous core. The firm’s socks are reinforced with a nylon outerweave to aid in durability with keeping the inside soft. “Hiding in the urban jungle is no easy task” notes Eurosock national sales manager Ed Wray, with camo designs proliferating.
“Hiking is transitioning beyond the traditional trail to include more urban journeys,” comments Dave Petri, VP–marketing for Farm to Feet. To accommodate, the three-quarter height Max Patch “fits squarely between hiking and lifestyle” with a mountain-scape graphic, low/casual height and technical foot design.
Wigwam product manager Laura Ubbelohde-Korff sees a shorter length sock as a trend, with “mid-crew and typical crew lengths piquing the interest of a younger customer.” While Merino is a popular choice, a Merino/nylon blend can add durability and added moisture properties at a competitive price point. For Fall 2018, Wigwam will introduce new Traverse Peak, Pinnacle Ridge and Merino Comfort Ascent hiking styles.
“Direct to garment printed looks and elaborate jacquards that do not compromise stretch/function will be in high demand for 2018,” according to Stance director of marketing for performance, Javier Fernandez. The brand introduced Feel 360 technology (a proprietary treatment enabling socks to adapt and react to the environment around the foot) into nearly all of its performance socks this year to elevate freshness, dryness and durability in its offering.
In studio, “gripper technology has grown with the rise in popularity of barre, while graduated compression remains a plus for dancers and yogis,” notes Fernandez. Under Armour’s Performance Grippy sock features silicone strips on the toe area of the footbed. “Designed with arch support and left/right anatomical technology, this sock conforms to your foot as well as it grips to surfaces,” comments Nicole Buckley, merchandise manager for the UA brand at Gildan.
Thorlo product manager Tracy Harris is witnessing the broader use of performance socks, such as Experia, in studio activities. Experia ProLite is 30 percent lighter than the original Experia and employs NanoGlide fiber technology for “enhanced friction control, wickability, durability and reduced chance of chafing, hot spots and blisters,” she notes. Zensah CEO Ze’ev Feig is seeing a trend in personalized socks in the run category also resonating in studio. In working with Mile High Run Club, “we see that instructors want to express themselves,” he says. The firm has invested heavily in research and development to create the highest resolution socks and leg sleeves on the market.
“Feature demand is still high and consumers are continuing to spend more per product. This is communicating prioritization of performance over value; they’ll grab whatever promises them achievement of their personal best,” explains L. Alex Peters, marketing manager for New Balance socks at Renfro. NB’s Run Foundation line features lightweight construction for a second skin feel.
Offered at price points consistent with medical grade offerings, OS1st combines performance sock features (200-needle, seamless, moisture wicking, y-gore heel) alongside compression zone technology to address plantar fasciitis, bunions, shin splints and calf strains. “We are about advancing technology to benefit the athlete,” says Josh Higgins, president of OS1st parent, ING Source.
“Safety is always a concern,” notes Nancy Lisk, VP–design for Hickory Brands. The firm’s Second Wind compression socks have 15-20HG graduated compression with strategic cushioning for shock zone absorption.
“Lower cut socks are pushing sales upwards” in the run category according to Drymax EVP, Bob MacGillivray. For 2018, the brand’s Hawks sock – designed in conjunction with the brand’s elite ultrarunners – has been a hit. The sock incorporates ePTFE fibers (which are slick and hydrophobic) with a nearly sheer top foot.
“Runners appear to be more aware of what fibers they prefer and what performance fibers offer. Consumer education, both to the store associates and end consumer is starting to pay off,” says Tanya Pictor, VP–marketing for specialty at Implus. The firm’s Balega brand has updated Blister Resist Quarter and Crew Socks for the season, with new looks and a redesigned contoured quarter cuff. Mohair is the featured natural fiber component helping to keep feet blister free, enhance durability provide a soft touch.
For 2018, Point6 has expanded its 37.5 enhanced Merino line to include most styles, heights and weights in its collection. While traditionally focused on hiking and skiing, the brand is turning to expanding its running line and improving its run offering (extended mesh zones, more breathable, 37.5 nylon, etc.). “We have also amped up designs for runners that are loud and bright with names that inspire him/her to do more and go further,” says Mackenzie Yelvington, marketing coordinator at Point6.
The new Made in the USA Merino 10 collection from Feetures! unites Merino wool with Tencel for a premium offering with a 200-needle thread count. “It’s everything you love about merino times 10!” exclaims Song Nguyen, lead designer for Feetures! In the brand’s Elite Mini Crew, Nguyen is introducing bold patterns mixing geometric prints and classic stripes.
Darn Tough’s ultra-light run collection, Vertex, features fine micron Merino wool in no show and quarter crew fits. “Merino fibers are incredibly soft and flexible, stretching up to 50 percent to move with the body,” explains Lyn Feinson, director of design and development for Darn Tough.
For the future, Feinson and her team are tracking the evolution of both personalized product (body mapped seamless ventilation, uniquely structured soles and robotics in 3D printing) and experience (personalized approaches to foster local run culture like clubs, crews and informal runs).