Every once in a while customers ask us where our socks are made. When I say China, the response is neutral to sometimes outright negative. Goods made in China often have a negative perception or are perceived as low quality. This post aims to shed some light on why we decided to produce in China and our journey this far.
Sampling & Product Development
You might think creating socks can’t be a big deal, I mean after all they are just socks, a relatively simple product in the broader sense as far as products go.
However, socks and especially hiking socks are not created equal. They have to last for hundreds of miles, through the wet & dust, hot and cold, soft mud to rock hard stones. And while doing all that they have to stay comfortable and prevent you from getting blisters.
We started by having a look at what’s currently out there, we’ve tested socks from many other brands. Darn Tough, Smartwool, Icebreaker, Wright Socks, Injinji, Wigwam and more, just to name a few.
With the thought we either make socks that are superior to anything that’s available or not at all.
We’ve also looked at some companies that made socks using silver in other niches, mostly aimed at travelers or general athletic socks for use in the gym etc.
We’ve looked up sock factories around the world who are able to work with silver yarns. It might surprise you, but there’s only a handful of them in the whole world.
Initially we found 15 different factories, 8 of them in China. Not all of them were thrilled of working with us. Most sock factories are used to produce large quantities of socks at a low price, most don’t want to deal with such a small order and work on making a new product that’s vastly more complex than anything else they are currently producing. We found this to be true more so with factories outside of China, most factories in the US for example are producing under government contracts or for large corporations. Those factories are close to capacity on year-long contracts and don’t want to sacrifice guaranteed work for a small “test” order from unproven, first-time entrepreneurs.
Many of the factories we reached out to were therefore not even willing to produce samples for us. In the end we got samples made from 7 factories, but of those only 4 were actually able to work with silver yarns, and 3 of them were in China.
Our first sample was basically a standard merino wool/nylon blend athletic type sock with silver yarns. We continued working on developing what eventually would become the Silverlight socks after another 5 iterations in the design.
And in the next step we made it vastly more difficult. We asked them to make a sample for a dual-layer compression sock with silver-yarns. This pretty much decided for us which factory we would go with to develop the final design. Of those 4 factories still in the race only 2 came back and said they would be able to make the new design and both of them were in China.
After getting those samples we noticed something unusual. They looked exactly the same. Now we expected them to be somewhat similar, but getting two samples from two different factories made us suspicious. By asking our suppliers, we were able to find out that one of the factories actually wasn’t able to provide what we asked for as well and secretly reached out to the other factory to make their sample.
Some of the miracle machines (sock knitting machines) used in the production of Silverlight socks
In short, out of the 15 factories we started out with, there was only one left that had the ability to make the product we wanted and was willing to work with us. This was a small specialized research firm for silver technologies who had worked closely with a sock factory for a number of years. They had state of the art machinery they had just bought in the previous year and they had years of experience working with silver yarns. It turns out, most sock factories are not able to make Silverlight socks because the sock knitting machines that can create this kind of socks are only available since a few years.
Silverlight V1: Indiegogo Campaign
After the search which took longer than we expected. We found our factory to make the first production batch. And we developed the final design within 6 iterations.
We started out by making a small pre-production batch of 100 pairs. We sent them out to people interested to test them in the real world. This is how we gained our first few fans and knew we were onto something. Many customers told us these were the best hiking socks they ever had. This was our minimum viable product.
The first pre-production batch of 100 socks (with Ventury branding)
Our costs were way too high and we were not able to make a profit with our Indiegogo campaign, despite raising almost $40.000. But we knew there’s a market and people loved the socks. So it can be considered a successful test.
We shipped out more than 2000 pairs a few months later. Now we had to figure out how to turn this into a sustainable long-term business.
Quality Control, packing and preparing for shipment of our first production batch to ship to Indiegogo backers.
Silverlight V2: Regular Production
We have since rebranded from Ventury to Silverlight and refined the product further. We continue working with the same supplier we found in our first search because of their stellar product quality and few alternatives. Here’s some more details why China is the best place to produce our socks:
China Has the Best Supply Chains
Of course, we are aware of objections to manufacturing outside of the US generally and in China specifically.
Since we’re asked so often about where we make our socks, we wanted to share both where we make Silverlight socks and why.
China is the best place in the world to manufacture soft goods such as apparel. In China there are large clusters of companies making similar goods within a relatively small area.
Chinese factories have access to every component, material and fabric, in any size and color. All within driving distance.
Such a concentrated cluster creates a huge ecosystem of factories and suppliers. This means Chinese factories have better access to supplies during production than factories in other countries like the US.
While with socks there’s only a few steps involved. All the steps from the raw materials to the yarn manufacturing and sock knitting are close together.
If we were to produce in another country we would still need to source some materials from Asia.
Lastly China has probably the best transportation infrastructure in the world, with easy access to shipping ports, and fast access to other East Asian and South East Asian suppliers like Vietnam and other countries.
High-Quality Goods Made in China
Many people believe or perceive goods “Made in China” means they’re getting low quality. This is not true. There are many companies that make low-quality products. In China and throughout the world. But this is about the company, not their country of origin.
Chinese factories are perfectly capable of producing products up to the highest quality standards. Many premium brands produce in China in every industry imaginable. Apple is producing in China and will continue to do so, there’s not an easy alternative.
“Made in China” only means low quality if you cut corners in the vetting process and quality control and if you choose a low-quality supplier. It’s the responsibility of every company to ensure high quality levels with suppliers and we’re very pleased with the quality we’re getting from our supplier. In our product inspections we didn’t have a single major issue with the product so far.
Silverlight V3: What we’re working on
After rebranding from Ventury to Sillverlight, we have reached a stage with Silverlight hiking socks where we are very happy with the product quality and customers around the world love Silverlight socks. This doesn’t mean we’re done developing the product.
In our next batch we’re looking into making Silverlight socks more sustainable. The first step is by using recycled nylon instead of regular nylon. Which is the largest part of Silverlight socks by percentage.
Nylon can’t be made from plastic bottles, for now. But in order to make a more sustainable product we are partnering with Unifi and source their REPREVE Nylon 6, recycled nylon made from “pre-consumer” waste.
Recycling nylon fibers during the manufacturing process saves energy and makes better use of resources. The result? A high-quality, certified sustainable fiber that lives up to the highest standards of performance wear. REPREVE Nylon 6 is going to be the major ingredient in our Silverlight socks going forward.
ZQ Merino Wool
So far we were not able to trace back the exact origin of our merino wool back all the way to the farms. Merino wool is the second major part of Silverlight socks.
For the source of our merino wool we are partnering with ZQ wool for future production batches. With ZQ merino wool you can be assured that the product was made with the highest ethical standards regarding animal welfare, environmental sustainability and quality. It’s traceable to the source from farms in New Zealand and Australia which get regularly audited to make sure they adhere to the strict ZQ wool standard.
We’re always looking for new technologies and ways to improve the product. If you have any suggestions how to make Silverlight socks even better, feel free to contact us with your ideas. Silverlight socks, in how they are now, wouldn’t have been possible just a few years earlier and we’re going to continue to make Silverlight socks better whenever possible.