Published On: Mon, Apr 4th,

New Life for the Onetime Sock Capital of the World

Gina Locklear was 27 when she was selling real estate, quite unhappily. It is around 9 years ago. She proposed her parents that she wanted to produce socks; fashionable socks, made with organic dyes and cotton rather than the typical white socks which were the specialization of her family.

Ms. Locklear is now 36 and has successfully developed her business. Terry and Regina Locklear, her parents, founded a mill in 1991 in Fort Payne, Ala. They manufactured white sport socks for Russell Athletic. These socks were produced in millions, intended for big-box super stores and your own feet in case if you go for gym classes.

The younger sister of Gina, Emily, remembered the girls used to visit the mill after school time, where they used to assist their parents in sorting out socks into dozens. Named after 2 daughters, Emi-G Knitting paid for the college educations of girls, purchased a house for Locklears and a vintage Corvette for Terry.

Rendering the place and time, Gina and her parents’ idea to produce organic fashion socks, or any random socks at all, looked totally insane.

The mid-2000s had been a demoralizing time for Fort Payne. Settled mountainous northeast of the state, the town housing 14,000 inhabitants had promoted itself as “the Sock Capital of the World” for decades. It is said that in every 8 pairs of sock vended globally, 1 was considered to be produced in Fort Payne.

1990s era was the peak for sock industry. Over 120 mills hired more than 7,500 employees. But the challenges like free-trade agreements and cheap foreign labor made Fort Payne a loser in the global competition. Almost instantaneously, the mills shut down, and the town became a city in China known as Datang. Those who were still reluctant to accept the defeat, were wiped out by the financial crisis of 2008.

The Locklears managed to keep their mill, but hardly. Orders almost became negligible, along with those from Russell Athletic. The family was forced to reduce the work force to nearly zero. Terry just wanted to keep the lights on, because he was of the view that if he and his wife turned the power off and closed the doors, they would never be able to start it back. This was the time when Gina reached her parents proposing her idea. At the time when everyone else was willing to shut the sock business down, she was ready to get herself in.

Her parents were doubtful. They knew the difficulties to compete and how hard it was to build a brand. They even did not understand the whole idea of organic thing. Moreover, they did not want their eldest daughter to start something she was soon going to regret.

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When we talk about the textile mill, we picture a gigantic a century old brick building and as huge as a city block. We also think of that clack-clack sound of skittish machinery. But Emi-G Knitting is entirely different. It is an up-to-date controlled operation in a short metal building on the borders of Fort Payne.

On one recent morning, she was busy in some spring orders working in her office; Gina produces 2 lines: Zkano, an online brand initiated in 2008, and Little River Sock Mill, started in 2013.

Going organic basically means that the cotton is extracted from a farm in Lubbock while the dyes are taken from North Carolina. It has provided Gina a marketing niche. The target market of her socks is millennial; the customers who prefer labels and prefer a convincing origin story.

Last fall, Gina was honored by an American Made award presented by Martha Stewart and the Martha Stewart Living’s editors. This award is given annually to some small-business owners and artisans in order to provide them a boost of recognition.

Ms. Stewart stated that stock business was a sensible business. Everyone requires socks. There is no doubt about this fact that socks are worn by women as a fashion icon like never before. If we explore the pages of Vogue or some fancy dress exhibitions, we would see that every dress is accompanied with a pair of socks.

Gina future plans are to launch men’s socks this fall to Little River. Wherever Gina goes, she uses to observe socks. It is a norm to wear two pairs of socks in winters, one to the bed and other during daytime. Her office design is completely hosiery-related: on a shelf you can see rolls of candy-colored yarn, while some samples of mateless stuck to corkboards.

Gina married Al Vreeland 3 years ago in Birmingham. Her husband is a lawyer who is quite comfortable with the style she lives.

Ms. Locklear observes when Rhonda Whitmire examines socks. She handles all the customer service inquires herself. Moreover, she keeps herself quite busy in designing both lines, ordering yarn, processing credit card orders and doing social media marketing.

Being on mill, she focuses entirely on the knitting machines and their ability to aid and conspire against her. These machines are boxy like ovens and aqua blue in color. A halo of metalwork grips the yarn above them.

Vance Veal has been working for Emi-G’s as the plant manager, from the time when everyone else was and waved over. Gina’s parents cut down the workforce to zero but Mr. Veal continued to work on their payroll as their most significant workers. Veal, now 48, has been working mills from the time when he was 18. His entire family including grandparents, brothers and mother also worked in the mills. It was him who made Gina’s machines do the thing which no one thought to be possible. He converted the idea of producing 6-color fashion socks into a reality.

The Locklear family who started this in a renovated chicken house, now proudly stand with their heads held high in pride for controlling and operating a successful business initiative taken by their risk taking eldest daughter.


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