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Peter and Patty Duke got back into the merino sock business a few years ago, founding Point6 in Steamboat, Colo., the same place where they launched SmartWool nearly 20 years ago.
The couple and business partners (photo, right) recently stopped by the SNEWS offices in Boulder, Colo. to chat about where the company is heading and the future for merino wool. The business plan hasn’t changed in all these years, they told us, but the technology has. And just like SmartWool, the new brand is looking beyond socks.
The fundamental advantages of wool have remained the same, Peter said, with the key being that the natural fabric is better at regulating the body’s temperature than synthetics. That’s where the Point6 name comes from — 98.6 degrees is the human body’s natural temperature. Another brand owned the rights to “98.6,” he told us, “and they wanted thousands of dollars for it, so we said, ‘Point6 it is.’”
Read on for more of our questions and their answers below:
What’s changed in the sock category from when you founded SmartWool nearly 20 years ago versus starting Point6?
The business plan is exactly the same. We believe that people should cover their body in head to toe with wool while doing sport. It’s the technology that’s changed — there’s new machinery, wool-spinning techniques and the ability to spec wool to exact requirements.
There also seems to be a lot more competition these days, especially with a growing number of merino wool sock brands and products. Has the industry hit a peak, or is there room to grow?
We do recognize a number of new companies have entered the category. But there are still so many people out there that don’t know about merino socks. We’re in the outdoor industry, we know about it, but there’s a lot of room left, especially in the lifestyle categories.
So, are there any drawbacks to the growth?
Yes. As all these companies get into the category, they can destroy the category with less attention to quality. Eventually there’s a brand that wants to save money or provide an inexpensive wool sock, so they sacrifice quality. Their wool starts to itch or it falls apart and the consumer starts to get in their head that wool itches or it’s unreliable. We have to educate: Not all merino is the same.
What makes the difference?
It’s really about understanding wool when someone identifies a micron level to you. It’s not all the same — an 18-micron wool is not 18 microns all the way through; it’s an average range. If a product contains wool with a broad range from 18 to 37 microns, it’s those higher microns that will itch you. The objective is to keep the micron range narrow for a more truthful statement to the consumer. That’s what we do.
You recently announced that Point6 will produce a line of truly white wool socks, which previously were elusive in the category. Where do you see the demand for white wool?
We believe there is a market for white wool, specifically in golf, running and tennis. These sports traditionally have always sold white socks. With wool having a yellowish tint to them, it has created a problem to break into these markets. Wool is the choice for performance, but could not gain traction without white. Now we can.
How about other areas of expansion for Point6? Is it a natural evolution for a merino sock company to move into merino apparel and accessories?
It is for some. And yes, it’s already on the drawing board for us. To truly become a player in the merino category, an in-depth knowledge of wool, specifically merino, is required to successfully enter into all markets.