When science and socks collide

New Zealand Sock Company international sales manager Gabrielle Simpson and head of research and development Tony Jessep check socks on the factory floor.
Photo Linda Clarke

Sailors in the round the world Volvo Ocean Race are subjected to some brutal weather, but at least their feet will be warm and dry.

Ashburton sock-manufacturer The New Zealand Sock Company has supplied specially-engineered merino socks to several crews in the nine-month race, calling on their research and technology department to come up with a sock to suit the extremes of ocean racing.

The sock company uses unique technology on all its socks, with specifically-positioned padding to cushion pressure areas and promote blood flow.

Their socks are worn all over the world, by soldiers in Afghanistan and mountain climbers as well as diabetics and those with foot problems.

Owner Euan Sparrow said the company had moved from selling socks to selling sock technology, and customers all over the world were seeking socks fit for purpose.

The socks are all made, tested and packed at the company’s Ashburton factory, where 56 Italian-made machines whirr almost 24 hours a day.

Sparrow said the technology was exciting and the company relished new projects.

The company was approached in March by high-end wet weather yachting gear supplier Zhik to make socks for the Volvo ocean racing teams AkzoNobel and Dongfeng.

Long and short socks were needed for a boat shoe and a special boot worn by the sailors.

Sailors experience temperature variations between -5 and 40 degrees and are allowed only a few clothes.

NZ Socks international sales manager Gabrielle Simpson said the socks needed to be quick drying and able to wick moisture away from the foot, as well as being comfortable and snug-fitting.

Samples made of merino wool, processed using a unique yarn patented technology NuYarn, and incorporating an elastic support system were made and shipped off for the crews to trial.

Simpson said the socks needed to lock to the sailors’ feet, not slip or slide and cause blisters.

The specially-engineered black socks were a hit, the only request was to incorporate a bright colour so they could be easily found in the dark.

Sparrow said the other advantage of using merino was the socks could also be worn for several days without becoming smelly.

Head of R&D Tony Jessep said people spent hundreds of dollars on specialty footwear but often teamed it with illfitting socks.

Speciality socks that worked with specialty footwear were key for healthy, high-performing feet.

The company’s socks are worn and loved by athletes including snowboarder Freeman Andrews, recently named in the New Zealand Winter Olympics team, and ultra-runner Hollie Woodhouse.

The same sock science could be handy when New Zealand defends the America’s Cup in 2021.

The Volvo Ocean Racing fleet is due in Auckland in March, half-way through the 72,000km race.

– By Linda Clarke