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Company History





Fox River's History

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 and 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 sports market.

In 1985, Fox River began manufacturing hosiery under the Wick Dry® brand name. The patented Wick Dry® Health System reinforced Fox River’s commitment to meet and exceed consumers’ expectations. Today, that commitment continues with innovations like our award-winning high-performance socks-Wick Dry®, anatomical styles, and the naturally antimicrobial X-STATIC® (X-Static)—The Silver Fiber® socks. NASA has even certified four of our styles for use in the space program.

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 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 square feet.

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

Manufacturing Process

Every day Fox River turns thousands of pounds of yarn into thousands of pairs of socks.

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 its products...

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 needles.

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 SUSTAINABILITY PRACTICES].

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 quality review.

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 sock.

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.

Thank You!

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….

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