Teko Socks – Sustainability, Environmental Responsibility and Cool Socks

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My husband and I had picked up a pair
of Teko socks at Neptune Mountaineering for a hiking trip we were
planning to take to Norway. We had been attracted by the packaging,
which highlighted their commitment to environmental practices. After
checking out their Web site and learning their office was in Boulder,
I decided it would be great to talk with them about their work.

It was early morning, when I drove up
and met Jim Heiden, owner of Teko Socks, in his North Boulder Office
to talk about his company and his commitment to environmental
sustainability. I was a little early, so I saw Jim as he rode his
bike into work.

Eco-blogger: Tell me a little about
yourself and why environmentally conscience socks?

Jim: I have been in the outdoor
industry for over  35 years and I was one of the first wholesalers of
Gore-Tek® and I felt like the
industry wasn’t doing enough.  I was also trying to help my step-son,
who has really sensitive feet and the toe seams in socks drive him
nuts. So, I tried to come up with a seamless socks for him by
knitting a flatter seam but that didn’t really work. Instead, I woke
up one night and thought why don’t I make high-performance,
sustainable socks for kids. But after some thought, I realized that
the market would be too small, so I decided to focus on adults and
then kids. But my step-son is now 14, so he can wear them.

EB: You talk on your Web site
that every fiber Teko selects must meet the criteria of achieving the
highest level of performance as well as leaving minimal impact on the
earth.

Jim:
As
I said, I was frustrated by the outdoor industry. I didn’t think we
were doing enough to support sustainable manufacturing behaviors.
So, as part of our manufacturing process we try and use
materials that are available within 200 miles of the factory. The
only exception to that  is wool. The sheep raised in this country are
for eating. They produce a coarse wool and then not enough poundage
to do what we want. So, the way the socks are made is that we use
recycled polyester in the toes and heals, and even thought I hate
synthetic, it just performs so well. You can’t sacrifice the
performance but we keep looking for alternatives. We were looking at
recycled polyester lycra but it just does not have the return
stretch. We can’t sacrifice the performance of the sock, so we keep
looking at different fibres all the time.

The farm, where we get our wool, is in Tasmania; it’s about 65,000 acres and developed with a bio-diversity plan. About  20 years ago this working farm decided they weren’t feeling good about pesticide use. They weren’t feeling well, and their son had severe allergies. So, they decided to develop a holistic and sustainable farm. They restored the soil back to the original state and  they identified natural migratory routes for the sheep and cattle to ensure good grazing. And most importantly, they don’t shear down any lower than 2-3 centimeters on the animals as any lower causes shock.  This farm believes that the welfare of the animal is important –  the balance between people, animal and earth is essential.

Our other materials come from around
our factory; packaging is made from 100% recycled chip board and we
use soy ink for printing. We use FSC certified paper for our
catalogue, envelopes, business cards –  all office supplies use close
to 100% post-consumer waste. And then we try and  support companies
that promote sustainable practices like Office Depot. Today, we are
also working on smaller packaging.

EB: It sounds like you are very
involved with your suppliers. What are some of the other things you
do?

Jim: Currently, our wool
adheres to Ecolabel Standards, which includes water and energy use.
Eventually, we will go to a stronger certification but we are already
doing things beyond the standard. We use non-chlorine for
shrink-resistance. We buy 6 months worth of container loads of wool
and store it in S. Caroline, so we have fewer shipments. We also buy
carbon offset but  we don’t think that is the way we should do
things.

EB: It sounds like you have an
almost cradle to grave philosophy for your products. Can you talk
more about that?

Jim: At the end of its lifecycle, how do you
separate the different materials in a sock to recycle? This is
something that we are still trying to solve. But you have to do
research and have a bit of luck to find companies that have a good
record and have an environmentally-responsible stance.

Another thing we try and do is
manufacture in the US. Our small farm and manufacturing bases are
disappearing industries. We want our small farmers to keep going,
stay in business and make money.

Look, the outdoor industry has gone
from USA to Hong Kong to Thailand to Bangladesh, then China in the
search of cheaper manufacturing.  And they have produced lay-offs
across the globe.  You have to have a sense of social responsibility
to these places.

Jim summed up his feelings on
sustainability by telling me a story about Peter Downie/Downie
Dungrove Farm in Tasmania. They were out walking and the farmer
pointed to a tree and said, “This tree is about 150 years old and
in another 150 years someone else will be gazing upon it. You have to
think long-term”.

I could have spent most of the morning
talking with Jim about his energy efficient offices (built by Jim
Logan
, a Boulder sustainable designer and architect), their new
smaller packaging, his goals for 2008 but we both had places to go. I
almost felt a little guilty (ok, a lot guilty) watching him get on
his bike as I drove away. But as Jim has said, we have a long way to
go and areas where we can improve.

Smallsock_2
By the way, the socks wore like champs.
Not one blister, even after getting them wet.

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