Sockmaking followed the path of other footwear in this country: overseas. In 1998, there were over 570 hosiery and sock mills, according to Census data. By 2008, 190 remained.
"You have to redefine yourself on a daily basis" in order to survive as a sock maker, says Jimmy Baker, owner of Fort Payne (Ala.)-based Baker Hosiery
. Baker began working at a hosiery mill while attending high school in the town that was once known as the nation's sock capital. He opened Baker Hosiery three years after graduating. Now, he says, to be successful "you have to find smaller volume, higher profit items." Baker focuses on specialty hunting and running socks and niche fashion items. Part of the difficulty, he says, is finding retailers that will stock his socks. To increase distribution, Baker is about to begin selling products directly from his website.