The family behind American sock manufacturer, Darn Tough Vermont, are no strangers to difficult times. The Cabot family have been running their Mill in Vermont for over 40 years. Darn Tough Vermont (the brand) started in 2004. At this time things were a little bit rough for American manufacturing. The Mill was making socks for a number of popular brands, but with overseas manufacturing coming to the fore the family had to make a difficult decision; outsource manufacturing or stay put and try and make it work. The family decided to stay, and Darn Tough Vermont socks were born. They rallied around and started knitting the best, most durable sock they could imagine. Thankfully, the risk paid off. Now, 18 years on, Darn Tough Vermont has become the #1 brand in the Hike/Trek category in the US.
We caught up with the team at Darn Tough Vermont to find out how they’ve been getting on during the pandemic. We were keen to hear about the brand’s exciting plans for the (very near) future.
It’s been a rollercoaster 18 months with a lot of hurdles to overcome. How has Darn Tough Vermont coped throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s been a period unlike any of us have experienced before. We feel fortunate we are not only weathering the Covid uncertainty, but our business has strengthened as more people have been getting outside much more often. When Covid initially hit, we took a conservative approach to our business. We’re now in a position 18 months later where demand is so high for our socks, we’re adding a second knitting facility about 30km from our original Mill in Northfield, VT.
That’s great news! We’re also finding that demand has increased in the UK. There is a whole new audience who are appreciating the outdoors and getting into outdoor activities. This new audience is looking for great brands to invest in resulting in increased sales – it sounds like this is the case in the US too.
Absolutely! We’re seeing double-digit growth across all areas of our business. We’re thrilled that we’ve just become the #1 brand in the Hike/Trek category in the US too!
Spring PR are huge fans of your hike socks, so it doesn’t surprise us that you’re the #1 brand in the Hike/Trek category in the US. It sounds like the second knitting facility is being added at the right time! The major Waterbury, VT expansion was understandably delayed. Its headquarters opened back in March 2020, just as the pandemic began. How is this coming along now, are plans back on track?
We’re not only back on track, but we’re excited to report that we just finished installing 48 new knitting machines in our Waterbury, VT facility and our first socks have now been produced in our second Mill. On top of this initial installation, we have another 48 machines on the way for the first quarter of 2022.
It has always been important to Darn Tough to hire staff who live locally and/or are from Vermont. Has this been the case with recruiting staff for the Waterbury Darn Tough facility?
Vermont is part of our brand name, and we couldn’t do what we do anywhere else. With the harsh climate and smaller population, Vermont isn’t an easy state to do business in. But it’s that toughness that drives our determination to always improve and make a better sock. Expanding to a new town within Vermont has provided us access to a broader labour pool. We’ve been able to hire well over 100 people this year as we staff up. The brand has established an excellent reputation, and we’ve never had a stronger applicant pool than we do now.
You’re going to need those extra staff members with the plans you have lined up for next year! Can you tell us a little bit about what’s in the pipeline for Darn Tough?
We expect that the trend will continue with greater numbers of people getting outdoors. We have a beautiful Spring 2022 line that will start shipping in January, and we’re already receiving advance customer orders well in excess of the same time last year. Expect to see fantastic new designs and colours across many of our categories. We’re also continuing to improve our comfort, durability and fit with each iteration.
We’ve had a sneak peek at the Darn Tough Vermont SS22 line. We agree, there are some fantastic new designs that we can’t wait to get our hands on!
On top of everything else you have going on over at Darn Tough, you also work closely with the Vermont Foodbank and have donated over 925,000 meals over the life of your partnership. How did Darn Tough’s relationship with the Vermont Foodbank come about?
Our founder and owner Ric Cabot has had a relationship with the Vermont Foodbank since[BK1] the beginning days of the brand back in 2004. As Darn Tough has grown, so too has our ability to support our own community, right here in our home state. The Vermont Foodbank supports some of our very own families, and certainly our friends. We’ve found as we share how great the need is, our customers from across the US have rallied to help us feed our community.
In 2017, the company made its first major donation to the Vermont Foodbank, donating 100% of profits from Giving Tuesday on darntough.com (the Tuesday after the US Thanksgiving). We’ve maintained that same day of giving every year since. We have also added some new programs along the way to enhance our support. These include donating all proceeds from the 4VTFB Farmer’s Market Sock in Spring 2020, as well as the JENerosity[BK1] sock in early 2021. Not only has the company donated dollars to the Foodbank, but we have also had groups of employees volunteer their time to support the Foodbank’s distribution efforts over the years. Based on our projections, we expect to surpass 1 million meals donated over the lifetime of our partnership this year!
You definitely have a lot going on at Darn Tough Vermont! Do you have any other aspirations for the next couple of years?
Expanding our sustainability efforts across the board is a top priority. From innovating with our materials to further strengthening our communities – we know the more we grow, the more of an impact we can make.
We’re also planning for further international growth and expect to have our socks available to purchase digitally in new markets.
If you haven’t already, make sure you get your hands on some Darn Tough Vermont socks. Take it from us, their socks are the best! Did we mention that all of their socks also come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee?