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Q & A with the sock man

Kelly Nester, CEO of Nester Hosiery, grew up surrounded by socks, but the launch of Farm to Feet five years ago changed everything.

Farm to Feet is a young brand but its foundation runs deep. Kelly Nester, CEO of Nester Hosiery, has been a leader in hosiery manufacturing for close to three decades.

Marty Nester, his uncle, founded the company in 1993. Within two years, Kelly joined, and the family duo knocked on the doors of outdoor retailers: an effort that lay the groundwork for Farm to Feet, the 100-percent American-made sock brand they launched 20 years later.

Kelly’s vision for the brand has been clear from day one: To create a transparent, farm-to-table model within sock manufacturing. That mission continues. This year, Nester Hosiery became the first bluesign-certified U.S. sock manufacturer—just in time for Farm to Feet’s fifth birthday.

To celebrate, Outside Business Journal caught up with Kelly to reflect on the brand’s roots and what is on the horizon.

What are you most proud of about Farm to Feet?

Kelly Nester: I’m most proud of our proactive communication down the supply chain and the special team that we’ve built throughout that network.

All of the companies involved help us, work hard to dial in the product, and take pride in the finished goods.

Even the sheep ranchers who grow the wool— who often are not exposed to finished product using their wool—are intimately involved with Farm to Feet. They know our brand mission and we truly have a supply chain team.

How does local manufacturing affect the health of local economies?

KN: Local manufacturing has a very positive impact. Companies that make things generally create a broad range of jobs. For us we hire and develop skilled technicians, quality inspectors, process managers and even software developers. In our case a manufacturing job has been a very stable job, with an average length of tenure of 8.5 years.

A smiling worker at Nester Hosiery/Farm to Feet fixing a sock machine. Kelly Nester
Employees at Nester Hosiery are fully invested in the American-made manufacturing story.Courtesy

For us the outdoor recreation economy is the true catalyst. Our whole supply chain community benefits – not just our knitting facility but the packaging supplier, the yarn spinners, the dye facility, the top makers and even the sheep ranchers.

Having an American-made label is a huge challenge for most companies in the U.S. What enabled Farm to Feet to have its success?

KN: We have found the right partners for every step of the supply chain and have developed an amazing in-house team of innovators. As a knitter you are essentially an assembler of yarns, yarns that have different attributes working together to make the sock feel right, fit right, smell right and wash just right. Simply put, we have the right team down the supply chain and in-house to pull it off. Our socks, that happen to be 100 percent U.S. sourced, are the best in the world, and a fair value.

As more Americans are becoming conscious of where their products come from, what role will American-made products play in the U.S. market?

KN:I think the transparency trend is the stronger trend: It’s not only where a product is made, but also by whom and how a company values their employee relationships. People care about that. Consumers want transparency so that they can see the company’s social values, ethically produced items, and a commitment to the overall outdoor recreation economy. We happen to do it in the United States so our story is there.

What is the next five-year forecast Farm to Feet?

KN: We are in a growth phase at Nester Hosiery and expecting one also with Farm to Feet. Recently in June, 2017 we recapitalized the company, broadening our team and increasing our financial capacity. We’re continuing to invest in Farm to Feet, and we’re open for business for private label manufacturing with companies that are interested in robust, symbiotic, long-term relationships.