Written by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
There are some things in life that once you experience, you just can’t go back. Organic cotton is one of those simple luxuries. From my linens to my clothes I buy organic and try to support Alabama’s makers. Alabama’s Little River Sock Mill fits me perfectly. Their socks are organic and made in Fort Payne, Alabama. I buy the socks at Alabama Chanin.
Little River Sock Mill is a family business committed to quality socks and Alabama’s unique heritage of sock craftsmanship. Their sophisticated and modern designs are ethically crafted with organic cotton and low-impact dyes. Terry and Regina Locklear started the mill in 1991, making white sport socks for Russell Athletic. Fort Payne was the “Sock Capital of the World” at the time, with one in eight socks sold globally being knitted there. The first cushioned sock was made there, too.
After cheap foreign labor and free trade agreements began cutting into the business, in 2008 their daughter, Gina Locklear had an entrepreneurial idea to make fashionable organic socks with organic cotton and dyes. And since then she has made tens of thousands of them.
Gina’s parents still own and run the mill and are still making socks. Gina’s brands, zkano, and later Little River Sock Mill (started in 2013) are made under the umbrella of their business, Emi-G Knitting. “Moving the line to organics happened in different phases, and the entire process took about a year,” Gina recalls. “The manufacturing part was pretty simple for us because the infrastructure already existed. When we launched zkano, we came up with around eight styles of basic socks, similar to the socks that my parents had produced for years.” Little River Sock Mill is the specialty line, for the boutique market. She found the hardest part of the process was learning how to market a new line of socks from scratch. “Branding, launching a website, photography, packaging, and wholesale—all of these were things I had no idea how to do or where to begin when we launched. So there was a major learning curve there.”
Both lines are made for men and women. For the zkano line, they sell men’s and women’s fashion socks, as well as sport and every day basics. New collections of zkano are launched twice a year, in the spring-summer and fall-winter. Originally, Little River Sock Mill was a line of socks for women, but due to popular demand, new styles for men were added in fall 2016 and have been well received. Little River launches new collections during the same seasonal time periods as zkano and produces a small collection for the holiday season. Collectively there are more than 300 styles sold across the country, with more added all the time.
Visit Little River Sock Mill’s website, LittleRiverSockMill.com, where you can also find a complete list of stores that carry the socks as well as socks available for purchase online.