2020 - Volume #44, Issue #1, Page #07[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
He Makes Socks From His Own Flock
“Getting a product like this on the market is not for the weak of heart,” says Kopren about the multi-year process he went through to get his socks on the market. “We had $100,000 tied up before we saw a single sock. It took a year to figure out the final design and then we still had to do the website, patents and everything else.”
A dedicated wool sock wearer for many years, Kopren knew what quality socks should be. Wool socks are noted for their ability to wick away moisture, promote blood flow, and resist odors.
“We wanted them shrink-resistant and super strong so they won’t get hard,” he says. “We double-padded them to add strength to the toe and heel, yet leave them super thin on the top. We even sewed the family’s Fishhook brand into the toe of each sock.”
Kopren and his family run about 250 registered Rambouillet ewes and another 1,500 Rambouillet/Targhee Merino ewes in their commercial flock. For many years he also ran a shearing crew and worked with sheep producers in a multi-state area. That, combined with being active with both state and national sheep industry groups, gave him vital contacts when it came to making socks.
He pays special credit to John Helle, a former shearing client from Dillon, Mont. Helle runs a flock of 12,000 Rambouillet Merinos and uses all of their wool to make Duckworth wool clothing.
“Without John, there is no way we could have done this,” says Kopren. “I met people who work with John. Others I met while serving on the American Wool Council. Those personal relationships were vital.”
Kopren ran his ideas past these contacts multiple times before processing 2,500 lbs. of wool at Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, Wyo. There it was scoured and cleaned to make rope-like “top” with all the fibers in line.
From there it went to Chargeurs Wool USA in South Carolina for a super wash that descales the fiber, shrinks the strands, and makes them washable and not itchy. By that point the weight is reduced by 50 percent.
The Burlington factory in North Carolina, where it was spun into yarn, was next. It was followed by the Crescent Sock Company in Tennessee, where the yarn was made into 5,500 pairs of socks.
One of the challenges was that Burlington and Crescent are companies that normally deal in large volumes only. In order to maintain the integrity of Kopren’s single-source socks, production lines had to be shut down before and after his wool was handled.
“We were super appreciative of what they did,” say Kopren. “They’re set up for 25,000 to 50,000 lbs. of top, and we showed up with 1,250.”
Two years from starting the process, the Koprens are selling socks out of their house. While they are counting on millennial interest in knowing where their food and clothing come from, it is farmers and ranchers who have been their biggest customers initially.
“We have yet to crack our target urban market,” says Kopren. “That will take time, but wool socks are a growing market. We’re glad we are in on the beginning stages.”
Kopren is excited about the future and has plans to commit 25,000 lbs. of wool to the next batch of Fishhook socks. Even so, he is hesitant to suggest others follow suit.
“I don’t want to discourage people, but it takes time and assets to get an enterprise like this going,” he says. “If you want to see your wool in a finished product, a company like Mountain Meadow can do it. They are in between small mills and large with the capability of doing everything from yarn to blankets. There’s not a lot of margin in small lots, but it can be fun.”
Fishhook socks are available in crew and quarter sock styles. The taller crew socks are priced at $24.00 and quarter socks are $22. The socks are 68 percent Rambouillet/Targhee Merino wool, 38 percent nylon and 2 percent Lycra Spandex.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Fishhook Socks, 13330 180th Ave., Bison, S. Dak. 57620 (ph 605 858-8390; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.fishhooksocks.com).
Editor’s Note: Jim Ruen, who wrote the above article, bought a pair of Fishhook socks and said this: “They feel so good that you hate to take them off. They fit like gloves and feel like slippers. The double-layered bottoms give support you didn’t know you needed. Meanwhile, the single-layered uppers wick away heat and moisture. I never thought I’d spend $24 for a pair of socks, but I’m glad I did. I’ll be buying another pair soon.”
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