GIVING SOCKS POWER
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — No longer limited to basic multipacks of white crew socks, sport socks are becoming more diverse and, in some cases, more technically engineered.
Adidas, Tehama, Kenneth Cole Reaction and Gold Toe are a few of the brands updating their product lines.
Adidas has developed compression “power” socks for Adidas-sponsored athletes competing in the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. The tight-fitting fabrics are meant to keep muscles compact and to help prevent them from vibrating.
When sprinting, runners’ major muscles, such as the quadriceps, tremble with each stride at the point of impact, an Adidas spokesman noted, and can then become stretched or strained. World-class runner Paula Radcliffe, a British hopeful for the Sydney Games, is among the athletes who are using the power socks to compete.
Radcliffe, a competitor in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races who wear-tested the product for Adidas, said the socks reduce muscle oscillation, which helps to lessen fatigue and also helps with recovery. She periodically uses the socks for long track workouts, long runs and speed-endurance workouts but tries to limit their use to maintain a competitive edge.
By covering the entire calf, power socks are designed to stimulate circulation in the muscles, helping to provide support and enhance the stamina of distance runners and other endurance athletes.
“Cosmetically, I think they look fine, but more importantly, they feel great,” Radcliffe said. “The world has been somewhat braced for their arrival by people such as Britney Spears, who wore similar socks in her first video.”
Shortly after the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Adidas went to work on developing the power socks by asking mid-distance to long-distance runners about fatigue, muscle cramps and recovery time, said Armin Bohm, innovation team leader for apparel and accessories.
After speaking with physicians about how circulation changes during exercise, the company decided to design socks with graduated compression to help circulate blood more efficiently to the heart, Bohm said.
The power socks are part of Adidas’s new “energy maintenance” concept, which involves studying the movements in various track and field events, and tailoring apparel and footwear products accordingly. Research was done at Calgary University and at Adidas biomechanical lab in Portland, Ore.
“Many people think, ‘Oh, it’s just a sock.’ But it’s a piece of equipment that can make a big difference to a performance and also to your career,” Bohm said.
Adidas has also developed a throwing suit with compression in the throwing arm for sports like javelin and shotput. Compression is also designed to improve an athlete’s proprioception — the ability to sense changes in the body position, the spokesman said. By doing so, throwers should be able to improve their distance, he said.
Tehama, a golf-inspired line cofounded by film legend Clint Eastwood and apparel executive Nancy Haley, is offering new sport-sock looks through a new licensing deal with Mountain High Hosiery, a San Diego-based firm.
Next month, sales reps will start showing the 13-piece women’s group, according to Chris Cusenza, creative director. Tehama’s cushioned and noncushioned socks and nonathletic fashion styles will be available this fall, primarily in pro shops.
In the first year, the line should be offered in at least 40 percent of the 2,000 stores that carry the brand’s sportswear, according to Bob Shell, president of Tehama.
“What we’re trying to do is create a total brand package,” he said. “We also want to stay very close to our customers, and more of our customers are looking to us to dress them from head to toe. We want to be known as more of a lifestyle brand.”
During August market, Tehama socks will be shown at Mountain High’s showroom at 101 West 55th Street in New York. Mountain High also produces licensed Tommy Hilfiger socks for women, men and children, and Hugo Boss socks for men.
“The deal with Tehama fit with the way our business is going,” Cusenza said. “We’re committed to high-quality, branded products, so this was a natural fit for us.”
Kenneth Cole, which is now licensed to Liz Claiborne, plans to introduce sport socks under its Reaction label next year for fall 2001 selling, according to Helen Welsh, president of Liz Claiborne accessories. Welsh noted that sport socks are not planned for the signature label, which is more casual-sportswear oriented.
“Reaction is more casual and sport-driven,” Welsh said. “It’s a different customer base.”
Great American Knitting Mills, the maker of Gold Toe socks, has launched “Socks for a Cause,” a cause-related marketing program, a Gold Toe spokeswoman said. The company has developed sport socks embroidered with the insignias of the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization, the American Heart Association and the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
The program will be offered in five or six major stores, according to Trish McHale, who joined Great American Knitting Mills last month as vice president of marketing. She is based at the company’s corporate headquarters in Burlington, N.C., and reports to Jim Williams, president and chief executive officer of Great American.
The socks will be introduced at retail in October and will sell for $5 a pair. Proceeds from the sale will be donated to the respective charities. Information about “Socks for a Cause” will be printed on packaging. The Y-Me socks have images of a pink ribbon, the AHA has an image of a red heart and the AmFAR line has an image of a red ribbon.
McHale attributed the interest in sport socks to the popularity of walking and exercise in general. In addition, more manufacturers are introducing quarter-length socks and other low-cut styles, which are appealing to women, she said.