|When it Comes to Wool, Feet Know Best
By BECKY TALLEY
Sheep Industry News Associate Editor
(July 1, 2008) Wool and socks are a match made in textile heaven. With its durability, moisture and temperature-management abilities and anti-microbial properties, wool is the perfect fiber to encompass and protect two of our most used appendages.
It is no wonder that wool has been a staple fiber for sock companies for ages. From thick, warm cold-weather socks to newer lightweight dress socks, wool has helped build a successful hosiery industry and everyday products for anyone.
“Wool, as my dad says, can be worn any time of the year,” says Margaret Chesebro, a fourth generation owner of Wigwam Mills Inc. in Sheboygan, Wis.
The company, founded in 1905 by Chesebro’s great grandfather Herbert Chesebro, started as a wool sock manufacturer but eventually branched out into other products over its past such as letterman sweaters and, surprisingly, wool bathing suits.
Currently, according to Chesebro, most of the company’s product line is socks, but it does also offer headwear and handwear lines.
For Wigwam, the ability to blend wool with other fibers has really opened up new markets for its socks.
“We are basically blending our wool with a variety of things,” says Chesebro.
Some of the outdoor styles of socks that Wigwam offers, a segment that uses the most wool, has been blended with polyester to give them better durability and added stretch. In addition, Wigwam also uses wool that has been blended with silk to make a luxury sock for everyday wear.
According to Chesebro, wool with a micron of 24.4 and finer is used to create active and luxury socks. Wool with a micron of 24.4 to 29.9 is used to create the classic style wool-liner sock.
Fox River Mills Inc. of Osage, Iowa, has been in the sock business since 1900 and has also found success with wool and wool-blend products.
The company offers a wide variety of socks including some in the ski and outdoor categories using a wool/PrimaLoft® blend yarn. Samples were recently given to participants at the 2008 American Sheep Industry Association/National Lamb Feeders Association convention.
“It has the best of both worlds,” says Xany Gibson, creative director and brand manager at Fox River Mills, adding that when blended together the natural properties of wool and polyester make a superior sock. Currently, the wool/PrimaLoft® blend yarn is available in men’s and women’s ski and outdoor styles and is being tested in other categories.
According to Gibson, she has seen consumers continually drawn to wool products.
“Wool is a traditional fiber, so when a consumer is looking for an outdoor product, they automatically think of wool for the warmth and protection it provides. It isn’t the only fiber you could use, but it seems to be the one end consumers want,” she says.
This is good news for the American wool producer, as a demand for wool socks translates into a healthy demand for wool. Both Fox River and Wigwam believe in supporting domestic producers as much as possible.
“Fox River promotes being green and feels it is very important to support companies who make products and provide jobs here in the United States,” says Gibson.
Wigwam is especially supportive of the U.S. sheep industry, as it switched its business plan to buy strictly American wool two years ago and uses wool in as many products as they can. Previously, the company was getting wool from a variety of places, including Australia and New Zealand.
“We found that wool from the United States has more crimp and greater resilience. As a result of that greater crimp, the wool tends to be better for insulation,” Chesebro relates.
The switch to buy American wool has given the company a marketing tool, as more consumers are looking to buy domestic products. According to Chesebro, the company has received a lot of questions from consumers wanting to find American-made products, as well as received compliments for going all-American.
“We really have started to ramp up the fact that we use all products made in the United States,” she says.
For more information on Wigwam Mills Inc. and its products, visit www.wigwam.com.
For more information on Fox River Mills and its products visit, www.foxsox.com.