FORT PAYNE, Ala. (AP) — Little River Sock Mill is well known locally for its line of organic cotton socks, but owner Gina Locklear never guessed it would catch Martha Stewart’s eye.
About five weeks ago, Locklear found out that Little River Sock Mill was an honoree in Stewart’s American Made program. Only ten companies out of the entire nation were chosen for this honor.
“We are honestly just completely giddy about it,” Locklear said. “I’ve never won anything like this so I feel like it’s one of the biggest things that has happened in my career. We’re so honored and thrilled.”
Locklear said her parents got into the sock business about 25 years ago when they founded Emi-G Knitting, the parent company of Little River Sock Mill.
“I worked every day with my parents and I would describe Little River as an offshoot of their business that is still existing, they are still making socks today,” she said. “They own Emi-G Knitting and I am the founder of Little River Sock Mill. We’re under the same umbrella.”
“I think that we go noticed probably because we are a family of sock makers and we’ve been making socks for Fort Payne since 1991.”
In 2000, Fort Payne, or the “Sock Capital of the World,” hosted around 125 hosiery mills. By 2011 the number dropped to about only 20. This tragic period left many people in the area unemployed.
“I think that we were very fortunate to remain open, though I have to say, over the past 15 years, keeping that business open has been very hard,” said Locklear. “Our business changed drastically and honestly there were times in the past 15 years we did fear we were going to have to close. I think that what kept us open was staying small and producing high quality products that we had been known for over the years.”
In 2013, Locklear founded Little River Sock Mill and decided she wanted to create something different than the typical white sock.
“When I decided I wanted to get into the business, I wanted to do so in a way that made sense for my personality and things that I really cared about,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in fashion and trends so that’s how we incorporated the fashion socks into my brand. In that sense, we’ve kind of put a modern spin on it and made it new.”
Locklear’s design puts quality before quantity with organic-cotton fashion socks.
“The designs vary every season,” she said. “We try to do a different story for each of our collections. For example, our inspiration for our fall ’15 collection was basing a lot of our patterns on quilt designs. We always try to plug in Southern heritage to our design whenever we can.”
The company also sells products online at littleriversockmill.com.
“We got the name, of course, from Little River Canyon, and then we wanted to call it Little River Sock Mill because, though it sounds a little strange, we felt like it spoke to the fact that we have our own mill and we manufacture our own socks,” she said. “That really makes us different and it makes us stand out as a sock brand. A lot of sock brands do not do their own manufacturing so we felt like that made us unique.”
Another company under Emi-G Knitting is Zkano. It was founded in 2009 and Locklear said it is known in the community as their online brand.
On Friday, Locklear will head to New York with her parents for Martha Stewart’s American Made summit honoring the top ten companies.
“I’ll get a chance to talk about our business and our story on stage with Martha in front of about 400 people, which I’m so excited about,” she said. “I started this business because I wanted to tell our story about my family’s sock business and tell the story of Fort Payne through our socks. It’s a dream come true.”
November 9, 2015