Alabama’s ‘Sock Queen’ weaves entrepreneurial vision into family business
FORT PAYNE, Alabama – It’s been a big year for Gina Locklear and her Alabama-made socks.
The Fort Payne native and her business have turned heads across the U.S., first as a winner of domestic guru Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards and later as the subject of a New York Times feature which dubbed her “The Sock Queen of Alabama.”
All the publicity has raised the profile of Locklear and her two lines of socks, Zkano and Little River Sock Mill, attracting new customers and demand that has led to a nearly 200 percent increase in this year’s sales.
“People appreciate that our socks are made here in the U.S., and they appreciate that they’re organic cotton,” she said. “They also appreciate our story. We’re feeling very fortunate this year.”
Locklear’s story is that she’s continuing a family and community tradition by making socks in Fort Payne, which was once known as “The Sock Capital of the World” before offshoring led to heavy industry losses there and in other U.S. textile towns.
Her parents started Emi-G Knitting when she was a child, and in 2008, she had an epiphany. She decided to support the family business and her own passion for green living by making organic cotton socks.
The Zkano line, marked with bold colors and patterns, is sold in some stores, but it’s mainly an online brand. Little River Sock Mill, which launched in 2013, is a more sophisticated look with softer colors and is sold in boutiques.
The customer base is broad, ranging from children to the elderly among those who appreciate the product.
Locklear said brand awareness began climbing late last year, with the nod from Stewart and the editors of Martha Stewart Living.
Of Locklear, they said: “With Little River Sock Mill, one young entrepreneur is hoping to revitalize the sock industry that once thrived in her small hometown—one colorful organic-cotton pair at a time.”
Locklear said the recognition was a thrill.
“We were one of 10 winners in the 2015 American Made Awards. We went up to New York to accept the award and meet Martha and it was a lot of fun,” she said. “Then we got attention from The New York Times. I feel like a lot more people know our story and know about our socks and why we’re making them and still making them in Fort Payne. It’s been very encouraging.”
Now, Locklear and her employees are busy preparing for a holiday season that surpassed even their high expectations, after so much national exposure.
So far, the most popular Zkano products this Christmas include the men’s Roland, a crew sock that sports colorful stripes on black, heather and steel backgrounds. And for the women, anything red is selling like crazy.
Meanwhile, Little River Sock Mill added a new men’s line this fall in response to customer requests.
So after a whirlwind year of high-profile publicity, what’s on the horizon for Zkano and Little River Sock Mill?
“We’re always trying to make a better sock and trying to get more customers,” Locklear said. “We’re not looking to expand into other categories. Socks are what we know, and I think that’s what we plan on sticking with. We’ll just offer more of what we have now.”
And while it’s been a roller-coaster ride since she decided to join the family business, Locklear loves what she does. Every week brings new challenges, but she stays focused on her mission.
“I really want to keep making socks at our mill that my mom and dad started here in Fort Payne, Alabama. That’s the mission. I think about it every day.”