Fox River Mills, Inc. was founded in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1900 and got its
name from its location in the Fox River Valley. During its first 60 years, Fox
River manufactured socks, mittens and gloves primarily for hunters, fishermen
lumberjacks. In the early 1960s, Fox River extended its product line to include
new and innovative styles and colors to keep pace with the expanding active
Fox River’s ties to Osage, Iowa started with the purchase of the Marr Knitting
Mill in Osage in 1966. Three years later, this mill burned down. By 1971, a new
mill was completed and the company permanently relocated its headquarters from
Appleton to Osage. Fox River continued to grow by
acquiring Rockford Textiles of McMinnville, Tennessee, in 1985, and Portage
Mills of Portage, Wisconsin, in 1988. Zwicker Knitting, Zwicker International
and Nelson Knitting (manufacturer of the Original Rockford Red Heel®,
affectionately known as the “monkey sock”) were acquired in 1992. The company
completed its state-of-the art addition in 1995 bringing the total square
footage of Fox River Mills to more than 250,000 sq. ft.
The growth of Fox River Mills can be significantly credited to the efforts of
the Lessard family. In 1940, Joseph Lessard went to work for Fox River as
knitting superintendent. He worked his way up through the ranks and bought the
company in 1975.
The Lessard family still owns and operates Fox River Mills. Today, Joseph’s
sons John and Jeff Lessard (along with many other talented people) manage the
smooth and efficient operation of the company.
Fox River’s success can also be attributed to the dedication of more than 300
hard-working, long-term employees drawn from Osage and surrounding communities
Every day Fox River turns thousands of pounds of yarn into thousands of pairs
We use a wide variety of yarns dictated by the way our customers use our
products. All the fibers we use have their own knitting properties and those
factors need to be considered when developing our products. Our design process
also must consider the type of knitting machine, yarn size and weight, machine
capacity, and pricing. As you see, there is a lot to evaluate before we even
get to knitting.
We have broken the manufacturing process into five steps. We start with
knitting, followed by seaming, wet finish, board pairing, and packaging. Join
us on a virtual tour of how the leader in premium outdoor and sport socks makes
Step 1 The Knitting Process
Did you expect to see two long knitting needles and a rocking chair? Well, we
suppose you could still make socks that way but to make the thousands of pairs
of socks we make in a day it would be tough. We use state-of-the-art equipment
run by dedicated quality-minded knitters and mechanics.
The high tech circular knitting machines use a series of knitting needles in a
cylinder formation. The yarn is fed to the needles row after row. The rows are
called courses. The vertical rows of stitches are called wales. The photo to
the left shows the yarn feeding section and the top of the cylinder of knitting
The knitter is the first step in Fox River’s quality process. Socks are
inspected from the knitting machine. A knitter works as a team with a knitting
line mechanic. Together they ensure the product is made of the correct fibers,
is constructed correctly, and meets or exceeds our standards for sizing,
length, cross stretch, and quality parameters.
We have a wide variety of knitting machines for different applications. These
machines enable us to use different fibers and technologies to meet our
customers’ needs. Fox River is known worldwide for many of our construction
features. As an example, our Wick Dry® technology uses specialized
fibers to move moisture away from your body so it can evaporate.
Knitting is at the heart of what we do. It is the foundation of quality that
the Fox River brand is built upon.
After the socks are knit, the toe seams must be closed. Some of our knitting
machines also include a seaming operation. However, many of our socks move
along to the next process: Step 2 Seaming
Step 2 Seaming
The picture on the left shows a sock direct from the knitting machine. Notice
anything different? How about the fact that the sock is open on both ends? This
sock needs a toe seam. In the picture, the right of the sock is the toe area.
Once it leaves the knitting machine and after its first quality inspection, the
sock goes to the seaming area. Here the toe opening is closed.
We have a number of ways to seam a sock and the selection is based on two
simple quality factors. These factors are the quality of the seam itself and
the comfort of the wearer. Again, the fibers and the sock’s intended use are
considered to determine the appropriate seaming process. (Read more on toe
seams INSERT LINK TO SEAMS).
The other seaming methods utilize machinery specifically designed for sock
seaming. On the left you see such a machine. Our seaming operators align the
socks in this machine for seaming. The socks are usually inside out for this
process. The clip is a special knit area where the seam will be sown. The clip
also has extra fabric that must be removed for a comfortable toe seam. The
machine then turns the sock right side out as the final step.
Once seaming is completed, the socks now look like socks should and are ready
for the next step: Step 3 The Wet Finish Process
Step 3 The Wet Finish Process
At Fox River the wet finish process can involve many steps. Some steps are
common for all socks and others are specific processes for specific socks.
Socks are washed and dried after the knitting and seaming steps. The washing
and drying steps do many things. Washing removes knitting oils and residue from
yarns. It allows for adding softeners and conditioners for a soft feel. The
“feel” of a sock is called its “hand.” Drying helps “set” certain fibers and
treatments and can help add bulk to some socks.
The picture on the left shows one of our compartmentalized washing machines.
The cleaning, conditioning, and softening products and amounts used vary for
different socks. The temperature of the water and drying also are important in
providing the optimum in comfort.
Fox River’s Wet Finish area also includes dyeing, scouring, and bleaching
operations. Socks that are to be white are either bleached or scoured.
Bleaching is an oxidizing process that removes color from a sock, leaving it
white. Scouring is a soap bath that removes tints and impurities.
Colored socks are either dyed after knitting or knit with previously dyed yarn.
This already dyed yarn is called in-grain yarn. By the use of in-grain yarns,
many attractive color blends and combinations are possible. We pride ourselves
on our sustainable methods and organic treatment processes. Read more [LINK TO
After a trip through the Wet Finish area, the socks are ready for: Step 4 Board / Pairing
Step 4 The Board / Pairing Process
There are three steps in this activity: boarding, pairing, and a comprehensive
In boarding, the socks are pulled on flat metal foot forms. The forms are the
desired shape and size of the socks. The socks on the forms are steam pressed
between two heated surfaces. This gives the sock its finished look. The image
at the left shows the boarding of socks.
The freshly boarded socks are then paired. Even socks knit with the same yarns,
same machines and the same settings will vary slightly. The pairing process
matches socks to other socks with the same slight size variation.
The Board / Pair operation is the last phase of the quality program in
manufacturing. Product quality is monitored at knitting, seaming, and during
wet finishing. The last review is done at board/ pair. Quality issues that are
found at board / pair are traced back through the manufacturing procedure to the
source, documented, and corrected.
The middle picture shows one check in the inspection process—looking for missed
stitches, holes in seams, or any flaws in the fabric in the sock.
The bottom photo shows an inspector performing a quality check for correct
sizing. The sock length is measured from the bottom of the heel to the top of
The pair of socks then moves to the final step: Step 5 Packaging
Step 5 Packaging
Once the socks are boarded and paired, the next step is packaging. The paired
socks are either sent to the packaging line for immediate shipment or to fill
future orders. Fox River’s packaging is driven by requirements of our retail
store customers. Bar coding and standardization are inventory practices for
many of our customers.
Changes to shrink wrapping on shipments to our retail store customers have
allowed Fox River to help the environment. (See more on our Sustainability
Practices.) By using shrink wrap, shipping costs are less, there is less
shipping material to discard, and it allows for time, material, and labor
savings. Also customers can easily manage their inventory at the store.
We hope you have enjoyed your virtual tour of Fox River and the process of
making the finest socks in the world. If you wear Fox River socks or handwear,
we thank you. If you haven’t tried our products yet, we invite you to give us a
try and see what you are missing….