From Alaska to Vermont: Designing Socks with Darn Tough

From Alaska to Vermont: Designing Socks with Darn Tough

Before we start the fishing season, often we’re thinking about the products we want to pack in our sea bags and wear on the water, and that’s how designing socks with Darn Tough Vermont started. It was one of those… “Ok, maybe if we just sent an email…” because we really love their socks. 

At Salmon Sisters, we want to collaborate with brands and businesses who make products with quality and character, because that’s the gear we want to wear and trust on the water. Socks have been one piece of gear that’s essential to daily comfort and happiness during long days on our feet, and we have dreamed of wearing a style that works well with the Xtratuf Boots we work in. Our family has been wearing Darn Tough socks for years and they have become one of our staples at sea. So, we sent an email, and that’s how a special sock friendship between Alaska and Vermont formed!

Finding Darn Tough, in Vermont

We already knew a bit about Darn Tough Vermont and their socks. When we were in high school in Homer, Alaska, Claire had a teacher who told her, go to college where you would love to live or be involved in the community. He recommended Vermont and that’s where she ended up! She was struck by the similarities between Alaska and Vermont, both the place and the people, the shared emphasis on the outdoors and local food systems, the crossovers in so many values and interests, and the way Vermonters were living their lives outside. It felt like home in so many ways. 

She first heard about Darn Tough when her then boyfriend, now husband, and his friend had plans to go to a Darn Tough factory sale. This was probably 15 years ago, but it was a big deal and they planned their whole weekend around it. They were working on a delivery truck and they needed good socks for the job, and drove from Burlington to Darn Tough and came back feeling like kings.

The Sock Problem

Socks became important to us when we became old enough to work on our family’s commercial fishing boat and start thinking about a fishermen’s world of self-care. Having happy feet is so important – they get you through long days working on the water, when you’re out on deck in your rain gear and your boots for up to 18 or 20 hours a day. You don’t want to have to worry about your feet being cold and damp and your socks falling down into your boots, because sometimes you don’t have time to stop and fix them. Having a good sock that keeps your feet dry and warm, that you can depend on, was the game changer I think our whole family and crew was looking for.

We had all the wrong socks growing up (short ones, cotton ones) and then finally, we noticed our dad was wearing a pair of Darn Toughs, and then we were gifted a pair of our own. After trying them, Darn Toughs became our staple, as they worked so well to keep our feet dry and warm in our Xtratuf Boots.

Our Email to Darn Tough

So, we decided to reach out to Darn Tough Vermont, just to see what might be possible. 

We're commercial fishermen and our community loves and lives for Darn Tough socks! ... We wondered if you'd ever be interested in teaming up with us to make some custom socks ... We're looking for something breathable with warmth, that can be wicking and comfortable inside an Xtratuf Boot for long 20-hour fishing days in Alaska. Ideally, they would feel warm without being too chunky.

– Emma & Claire, the Salmon Sisters

They responded, and from that email began a journey in socks and friendship. We got to know and collaborate with many people at Darn Tough, but a couple names that stand out from that journey are Marketing Specialist Andrew Oliveri and Design Manager Jenny Knapp. 

Finding Solutions, Finding Friends

Claire remembers her first impression of Jenny: she was so knowledgeable but also so eager and receptive to feedback. Jenny has been an excellent communicator and driver on this project. She was ready to learn, her language of sock was just so impressive, and she was so inventive about finding solutions. 

It was immediately clear she could take our vague, but passionate, ideas about what we needed in a sock and translate that into an actual first prototype. We were so thankful that someone was willing to dig in and find a solution. We loved getting to read her perspective on designing socks with us.

It was one of the first times we had worked with someone who had shown an interest in trying to dig in and learn how to build a quality product from the ground up that met a really specific need; the needs of commercial fishermen struggling to keep their feet warm and dry, which we know is an unusual and alternative way to make a living. That was really special. 

We pulled out the old holey socks we’d been wearing for years and explained exactly where the wear and tear was. Andrew encouraged us to send in all those socks as a first step for the Darn Tough Product team to learn from, to talk through those wear points with rubber boots. 

We were really inspired by the Product team’s take on designing socks — they wanted every little detail that we were able to share and the actual socks off our feet to be able to look at those closely and learn from them.

We sent our old socks from the boat in Prince William Sound to Darn Tough in Vermont. Once the socks were in Vermont, we hopped on call to talk about them, Claire from the wheelhouse on the F/V Halcyon and Emma coming in from picking fish in the F/V Acadian

Testing Socks for the Fishing Season

After that call, we received a first prototype in the mail from Vermont, a first ideation of what a rubber boot work sock could be. We had moved onto our halibut fishing season, so we tested that first prototype in the late summer and fall while longlining, then met with Darn Tough’s team again to give feedback. 

It was so fun to have our feedback valued and to learn more about sock language. Another round of samples came, which we shared with our husbands and their fishing crews in the winter, and they put those to the test on the water. Admittedly, we’ve never gotten any of those socks back, they’re still wearing them!

We kept receiving new samples in the mail; boxes filled with socks and maple syrup from Vermont. We kept wearing the prototypes and providing feedback, until the design was finalized. Darn Tough’s amazing team knit us each a special pair in a unique color, and named the socks the “Emma Claire” and “Stanley K” (after our family’s fishing boat).  

It was special to be part of designing these beautiful socks, the end result expanding Darn Tough’s line of work socks. We love thinking about all the different types of people who do different kinds of work who will love wearing these socks, including fishermen in Alaska.

Our Favorite Things About These Socks

These special socks are the Emma Claire and Stanley K Mid-Calf Lightweight Work Socks, the same sock in women’s sizing and men’s sizing, respectively. 

Claire’s Favorite Things:

“My favorite feature on the Emma Claire sock is definitely the high length on the calf and how snuggly it fits all the way down. The breathability on the sides is incredible, and the thin, thin texture on top is really comfortable. Mostly, I love that you forget you’re wearing them. They’re meant to be on and easy to wear in every boot.” 

Emma’s Favorite Things:

“I love the weight of the sock. I think it’s perfect for summer fishing. The venting on top is great for breathability. I also really love the heel and toe pad, just having a little extra cushion where your feet usually rub in your boots. We’re active when we’re fishing, so I love having a little extra cushion right where, if you’re kneeling down, your toes are up in the tips of your boots. Or if you’re back on your heels, having a little bit more support there is so nice. I also love when I take my boots off, my socks aren’t falling down; they stay up nice and snug and they’re just where you want them to be.” 

Our Sock Tips

Merino Wool is a real solution for people who have boots on their feet all day. It offers breathability and warmth, without the bulkiness of a big wool sock. These socks actually fit in your shoe, and help regulate temperature when you’re active on deck, with warmth and breathability to get you through any conditions.

The right mix of fiber, knit and fit can add such value to your day-to-day happiness, as silly as it might sound. Once you find your perfect pair of Merino Wool socks, your feet will thank you!

Why We Love Darn Tough

We love Darn Tough Vermont for the dedication behind the entire lifecycle of their products. Anyone who can stand behind something like their Lifetime Guarantee, believes in the socks they’re making and cares about the community of people wearing them.

We think about our family wearing Darn Tough socks and how happy our feet were, even before meeting the Darn Tough team and helping create a sock specific to the work we do as fishermen. Getting to know Darn Tough more, we learned that they share a lot of similar values with our values at Salmon Sisters: we are both family run companies, supporting the local area and community through giving back, employment and partnering with like-minded businesses. We are honored to have worked together to create some good socks to work in. 

We had so much fun showing the Darn Tough team around our hometown of Homer, Alaska and respectfully acknowledge the land of the Dena’ina People on which we live and do business.

See the women's Emma Claire and men's Stanley K Mid-Calf Lightweight Work Sock and more from Darn Tough Vermont.

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