Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Confident that sales of sport socks will continue to be strong for the next few seasons, legwear makers aim to keep the momentum going by expanding their offerings.
“It’s been the sweet spot in hosiery. Everyone is either making them or trying to make them,” said Mark Heirbaum, chief operating officer of DML Marketing, the maker of Legale legwear. “The market is not overcrowded. Everybody is so active now. The consumer really wants sport socks.”
But some sport socks are not performance-oriented, said Russ Klein, president of Easton International, the distributor of Falke in the U.S.
“What’s happened is that the athletic business has become so popular that everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. They’re calling basic white socks athletic socks,” he said.
Falke’s “ergonomic sport system” socks, which will be introduced at retail in January, is one of the more technical lines being offered. Before developing the line, Falke executives consulted researchers at the German College of Sports in Cologne to identify the pressure points on feet during various sports, Klein said.
Falke designed each pair of socks as a left and a right, with appropriate cushioning for various activities. There are socks for hiking, running, cycling, golf, fitness and even one for motorcycle riding, with extra padding for downshifting, he added.
The 15-style collection of sports-specific socks will wholesale between $5.40 and $9.50. Distribution will be geared to ski specialty stores, outdoor specialty stores, pro shops and health clubs, as well as department stores.
To raise awareness about ergonomics, Falke plans to sponsor foot races and other sporting events, Klein said.
For spring, Moretz Sports developed a seven-piece collection of sport socks, which will be sold initially at Gart Sports, a sporting goods chain. In the past, Moretz offered a few styles of athletic socks, but not a full collection. The styles that are now offered are available in a standard size range of 9 to 11, or plus sizes of 10 and 12.
Moretz said there were three factors in the booming sport socks business.
“Women are more active in a variety of activities,” he said. “Our U.S. soccer team helped break down a stigma. A woman can be athletic and still be a woman. And fitness walking is very popular.”
This fall, Moretz will introduce PowerSox, athletic socks made of Lycra 3D and designed to help prevent foot odor. Retail prices will range from $4 to $5. A $500,000 print ad campaign will be launched next summer. Major retailers will be tagged in the ads, Moretz said.
In November, Moretz will introduce seven styles of its Transpor and blister-guard socks, made of Teflon yarns to prevent heels and toes from blistering.
Last spring, Nine West entered the sport socks business by offering three-pair packs for $10. Each of three silhouettes — triple-roll, quarter-length and foot liners — has cushioned soles. Nine West sport socks have margins of 60 percent, which is two percentage points higher than margins for other Nine West socks, McNellis said.
Sales of sport socks accounted for 20 percent of the brand’s spring business, she said. That is expected to increase to 30 percent for spring 2000.
Lightweight sport socks multipacks are expected to help boost sales, said Pat McNellis, president of Nine West Legwear. Sport socks should be a growth opportunity at retail for at least two more years, she added.
“In this category, we all compete with one another,” she said. “In other types of legwear, each brand or designer has its niche.”
Hot Sox will get into the business this spring by offering three-pair packs retailing between $10.50 and $11. Quarter-length socks, turn-cuff socks, crew socks and foot liners will be shown to buyers during November market, said Gina Tricarico, sales manager. Each style has cushioned soles, but will not be flagged as sport, she said.
Legale’s athletic sock business consists primarily of anklets with cushioned soles, crew socks and foot liners. To encourage multiple sales, DML offers three pairs for $10. A single pair retails for $4.
This spring, DML introduced active-looking socks without cushioned soles, packaged in an adhesive band imprinted with daisies. The packaging was designed to resemble the graphics associated with “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” a film popular with teenagers, Heirbaum said.
“Obviously, everyone wants to go after the 12-to-17 group. That’s a huge pool of buying power,” he said. “We’ll use contemporary packaging or anything else that will make a pop in the junior hosiery market.”
To generate interest in the category, Legale updated its packaging last spring by printing labels with images of women from the Forties and Fifties running, golfing and playing basketball.
Despite Heirbaum’s enthusiasm about the sport socks business, he said sales would probably hit a peak next summer.
“By that point,” he said, “it will be a replenishment business. We’re nearing the point where people will have purchased as many sport socks as they need.”