Formerly dubbed “the sock capital of the world,” Alabama’s Fort Payne was once home to a bustling sock manufacturing industry. In fact, it’s been said that during a boom in the ’90s, Fort Payne once produced one out of every eight pairs globally.
“We had over 150 sock mills, but today we have less than 20,” said Little River Sock Mill president Gina Locklear, who aims to revitalize her hometown’s manufacturing tradition.
Locklear’s parents launched a sock mill in Fort Payne in 1991, when the industry was at its peak in the area, she said.
But after the introduction of CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) in 2005, Fort Payne’s hosiery industry crumbled as companies began outsourcing abroad.
“My dad refers to that as the nail in the industry in Fort Payne,” Locklear said. “Once that was signed, mills started closing overnight. Seeing how outsourcing affected our community, and the uncertainty of it, made me want to join [my family] in the business.”
She followed in her family’s footsteps in 2008 by launching the Zkano sock brand, and in 2013, she started the Little River Sock Mill label.
“My parents made basic athletic socks for 20 years,” Locklear said. “We started with basic offerings, but it’s grown from eight SKUs in 2009 to over 200 active SKUs currently with both brands combined. We have plush, cozy basic crew to fun and novelty styles.”
Little River Sock Mill is available online and at independent boutiques, with prices from $10 to $30 per pair. The label recently released a new fall collection. Its sister brand Zkano is available online for around $16 to $20 per pair.
While many brands source their manufacturing, all facets of production are done in-house — an ideal position for the company to monitor quality control.
“We can also make them in small batches,” Locklear said. “Before you would be forced to order hundreds of dozens per SKU, but we’re able to make smaller runs — and that makes us efficient and control quality more.”