Swiftwick Socks: A spring in the step of US manufacturing

Swiftwick Aspire compression socksWhen my partners and I decided to start Swiftwick — an athletic compression sock manufacturing company based in Tennessee — we had a clean slate to work with.

This was a rare opportunity to create a new “corporate culture” (as if those two words should co-exist) from the ground up. I greatly appreciate the challenges our team overcame along the way to helping our customers gain official sock-snob status.

We set out to build our organization around concepts we value, because that’s how we could sustain those values. Our vision includes positively influencing people and taking responsibility for environmental stewardship in the production of our socks, which we were absolutely determined to make in the USA.

With a clear mission we moved forward to innovate, create and produce the most advanced product we can make.

The Toxification of the Textile Industry

Like so many other industries in America, sock manufacturing packed up and left for distant shores about twelve years ago. We have all heard the stories about some nameless textile industry company allegedly allowing vats of product dye and chemicals to leach into the water table, excessive use of chemicals to treat finished products — so they are softer, but also toxic — you know, corporations and their leaders behaving badly.

Rather than clean up their processes or invest in responsible operations and retooling, it was easier to ship the business, and the jobs, to Mexico or China. The same machines that made socks 30 years ago in Arkansas are operating in China today. The factories and tooling just moved.

Then, the law of unintended consequences came into play as the entire base of industry suppliers left too. It’s hard to make things in America these days, not just because of regulation, taxation, finance and labor issues, but because your interconnected supplier base — the innovators and the support networks — left this country to chase their customers, who no longer exist in America.

Today, you can smell the solvents in most socks. Color or bleach is often applied after construction, rather than creating the material with color mixed in solution before production. The use of certified recycled materials is rare indeed.

The Eco-Friendly, Made in America, Swiftwick Difference

Swiftwick’s competitors, producing socks in Vietnam, China or South Africa, don’t talk about the carbon footprint that comes with simply transporting their socks across the ocean to reach their natural markets for specialty athletic consumers.

At Swiftwick we believe that you need fewer socks if you buy great socks in the first place. That would translate to lower consumption and thus, greater environmental stewardship.

Use of “natural” fibers may seem the obvious solution for eco-snobbery, but the wrong natural materials that sound good in marketing are in some cases even more problematic. When the process to create the textile will consume more water or energy to produce than the value or the benefit of the product, or the waste streams are an issue, you fail to achieve your eco-objective.

Bamboo is the best examples of a natural, renewable raw material found in supposedly eco-friendly socks, but the process and energy required to create any fabric or textile that you can wear, based on bamboo content, is simply out of balance with the end result.

Oh, and where do these bamboo forests exist?

To get the technology that produces the longest lasting product, we looked for materials and processes with minimal waste streams and no excess discharge. For natural fibers, we use merino wool which is perhaps the best example of nature’s original technical material and a renewable resource produced by responsible parties.

Making products that are produced AND consumed locally is hard to do, but it’s one heck of a value proposition. Constant creative refinements in compression sock design, along with the use of quality materials and construction techniques have earned Swiftwick the respect of world class competitors and every day athletes. We are thankful each time a consumer decides to buy a pair of Swiftwick socks and the sock-snobs at Swiftwick salute you.

Check out some photos of Swiftwick’s manufacturing facility, located in Chattanooga, TN — less than 150 miles from their headquarters in Nashville, TN:

Swiftwick CEO Mark Cleveland at manufacturing facility

Machinery at Swiftwick's manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, TN

About this guest author: Mark Cleveland is the president of Swiftwick and a serial entrepreneur. He lives in Nashville, TN.

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