In October, when Martha Stewart American Made announced the winners of their 2015 American Made Awards, we were thrilled to see a familiar face among the 10 honorees—our sock making collaborator, Little River Sock Mill. The American Made awards were developed a few years ago as a way to spotlight and support creative entrepreneurs and innovative small businesses—and we can attest that Little River is just that.
We first began working with Little River Sock Mill (and their Zkano line of socks) about 2 and a half years ago and launched an official line with them in early 2014. They also knit the socks that we made from our Alabama Cotton Project yield. Little River is based out of Fort Payne, Alabama, whose story of once being the “Sock Capital of the World” until labor was outsourced, felt so similar to our own community’s struggle with the loss of manufacturing jobs. Gina Locklear’s family opened a knitting mill in the early 90s, when Gina was about 12. By 2000, over half of the country’s socks (and 1 in 8 socks globally) were being made in Fort Payne. Of the town’s 13,000 residents, approximately 8,000 worked in the sock and hosiery mills. But, by 2010, that number had dwindled to about 600 people; of the over 300 mills that once operated, only 7 are still in existence.
When Gina graduated from college and made the decision to continue her family’s path in the sock making business, she named her business after the nearby Little River Canyon—in order to emphasize that the company is local, from the ground up. She also wanted to focus on organic materials, so each line is sustainably made in small batches with certified organic cotton and low-impact dyed yarn. Little River remains a family business, with their close-knit family and staff managing every step of the production process, from design to sourcing materials, to product packaging.
When asked by Martha Steward American Made: What does American Made mean to you, Gina responded:
“If I had been asked this question in 1991, I would have thought of my parents and said that American Made means the American dream. As a kid, I remember watching Mom and Dad work in the mill and make socks themselves with only one or two other employees. In the beginning, my dad would stay at the mill making socks until midnight, and then start again around 5:30 a.m. the next day. They did this because they knew if they worked hard, it would pay off and one day become a successful business. Today, when I think about our business and how things have changed for us since manufacturing shifted overseas in the early 2000s, American Made makes me think of perseverance and the hope that, one day soon, being made in America will be as important to all Americans as it is to us.”