For Bare Feet, located in Helmsburg, Indiana, is the country’s largest manufacturer of novelty socks as well as a licensee for the National Basketball Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball and the NCAA. They employ 140 people on three shifts (making them the largest private employer in Brown County) and generate an estimated $20-$50 million in annual revenue.
The company offers $7 tours of their production facility on weekdays at 10 am and 1 pm. Today we attended their 1 pm tour guided by Roberta who has worked for the company for just over one year.
The tour begins in their small gift shop/retail shop that houses dozens of unique and funny sock designs. You get a dollar off a pair socks when purchasing a tour, which we highly suggest, as I – as I write this – am wearing socks made from bamboo. VERY comfortable.
Roberta then took us to a small presentation area to share with us the founder’s touching story.
In the early 1980s, Sharon Rivenbark discovered that her son Tim (only 16 at the time) had an inoperable brain tumor. She quit her job as a local school teacher to take care of him and, in an attempt to keep him busy, to give him something of his own, she borrowed
$1,200 from her parents and purchased a hand-cranked antique banner knitting machine. This “sock maker” could churn out only 24 socks – 12 pair – a day. She and Tim used this machine to build the inventory necessary to open their first store in Nashville, IN.
Following the brief overview of the company’s history and a technical description of the machinery used, she led us to the production floor through each stage of the sock making process:
- KNITTING – over a 100 knitting machines create 12,000 to 14000 socks each day
- TOE MENDING – two women hand feed individual socks into a machine that double mends the seam above the toe – an industry innovation
- WASHING AND DRYING – each design is washed and dried together alone.
- IRONING - individual socks are put on a mold then sent through an oven and repaired for tagging
- TAGGING – For Bare Feet holds a patent on their tagging machine and process.
- BAGGING and SHIPPING.
The tour lasts approximately 45-minutes and gives you more detail than you ever THOUGHT you needed to know about sock making. But, you’d be surprised at how much you would appreciate your socks after this tour.
“Did we buy some socks?”, you might ask. Uhm… Yes.
We got a pair made from bamboo thread, a pair made from recycled bottles (1 two-liter bottle makes approximately one pair of socks), a set of “Basset Hound” designs and one pair of Argyle Moose Socks for our friend Brian.
For more information, or to schedule a tour visit http://www.forbarefeet.com