Darn Tough Vermont: America’s Turnaround Story

Darn Tough The Boston GlobeNote:  This is Part 1 in a 3-Part series, “Darn Tough Vermont:  Success can be a Double-Edged Sword.”

  • Part 1:  America’s Turnaround Story
  • Part 2: Sophistication and Commitment 
  • Part 3:  A Comfort Colors Future?

On April 21st the Boston Globe featured Darn Tough Vermont, reporting on the sock company’s growth and its transition from a private label manufacturer into a high-value outdoor clothing brand.

It’s a story with a proud past, present success — and a future everyone in Northfield should think about.

Ric Cabot’s turnaround story is rare among US manufacturers.   Over the last few decades, the impacts from overseas outsourcing have made many traditional manufacturers look deep inside their hearts and their pockets to decide whether to close up shop or join the race to the bottom in the quest for cheap global labor.  Few companies have taken the huge leap of faith Cabot made to transform their entire business model.

The 1980s and 1990s weren’t kind to the US textile industry.  95% of all looms in the Carolinas and Georgia were shuttered as globalization shook the foundations of America’s manufacturing economy.  Malden Mills in Lowell Massachusetts, a family-owned business as dedicated to its employees as Northfield’s Cabot Hosiery — came back from a devasting fire in 1995, but could not escape bankruptcy in 2001.

darn-tough-anvil2But Ric Cabot is as darn tough as the socks he manufactures.  Cabot Hosiery was on the frontlines of the global economy, but instead of folding or outsourcing, Cabot changed the name and direction of his company.  Cabot Hosiery became Darn Tough Vermont.  Traditional clients like The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch were no longer the focus.  Darn Tough’s new customers would be people who stand on their feet, who appreciate a sock for its quality instead of its price.  Darn Tough would now make one of the best pair of socks in the premier sports market, and would give a promise no other company dared to reproduce — a lifetime guarantee.

This says quite a lot, particularly when you sign your name to every pair of sock you sell.

“If you can wear these socks out, we’ll replace them.  Free of charge.  No questions asked.  For life.  When you’re really serious about something you make it yourself.”  – Ric Cabot

Unlike many over-wrought artisanal crafted products, Ric Cabot’s guarantee is no joke.  The Darn Tough promise has been put to the test and the warranty is sound.  Liz Thomas, a prominent long distance hiker, wore the same pair every day, testing the limits of this promise.  After much sock-wrecking abuse, she would return her Merino woolies to her local outdoor gear shop.  She would attend outdoor events like Pacific Crest Trail Days, trading in worn socks for new at the Darn Tough tent.  She even popped a pair of Darn Tough socks in an envelope and mailed them back from whence they were made:  364 Whetstone Drive in Northfield.  Every time, Ric Cabot fulfilled his promise.

How to Turn Holey Socks into New Socks aka the Darn Tough Warranty Works   Liz Thomas  Long Distance Adventure Hiking

And this promise makes Liz Thomas a loyal customer and excellent word-of-mouth champion for Darn Tough Vermont.

Whenever a hiker asks we what type of socks to wear on a long distance trail, I always steer them to Vermont Darn Tough socks. First, I believe that the tightly knit weaving keeps out trail grime and leads to a better fit—which helps prevent blisters. Second, I really like that they are made in the US. Lastly (and perhaps the most important for long distance hiker) there is an unconditional LIFETIME GUARANTEE.

Now that’s a guarantee I think about every time one of my el-cheapo Walmart socks busts a hole in the ankle seam after 6 or 8 weeks of regular wear.

Next up,  Part 2: Sophistication and Commitment 

 

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Author: Nate Freeman

-- DIrector of Strategic Partnerships Northfield Community Development Network (NCDN) -- Selectboard Member, 3-year term -- Member, Economic Development Committee -- Member, School Improvement Team at the Northfield Middle/High School -- Member, Northfield Teen Center Advisory Committee

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