Cabot Hosiery Mill lands Army contract

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(Host) A central Vermont company has landed a major contract to knit socks for the U.S. Army.

The contract will mean six to eight more jobs at the Cabot Hosiery Mill in Northfield.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Sound of knitting machines)

(Dillon) An army lives on its feet.

And the people who make Darn Tough Socks want to make sure those feet are comfortable and cool, even in the heat of combat.

Roland Beliveau is the company’s sales and marketing director. He says the best material is good old fashioned wool.

(Beliveau) “Wool is amazing for a number of things. In the current conflict, they’ve realized that the heat is so sensitive at a roadside bomb that synthetic base layer can melt to the skin.”

(Dillon) The Army is buying 300,000 pairs of a military version of the company’s popular boot sock. The company added 10 new knitting machines and has hired about a half-dozen employees to meet the $1.7 million order.

The socks are made from finely-woven, non-scratchy Merino wool. The material wicks moisture away from the skin. And Beliveau says it’s naturally fire-proof.

(Beliveau) “It does so many things well, that I can’t think of a synthetic fiber that does all of the things that wool does as equally as well.”

(Dillon) Darn Tough Socks are produced at the Cabot Hosiery Mill in Northfield. Its 80 employees, like Beliveau, are evangelists for their wooly and blister-resistant footwear. They’ve also worked hard to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Cabot Hosiery’s main business used to be in the private label market. It made socks for other companies – such as L.L. Bean. But that business has eroded under tough competition from China and other countries.

Co-owner Ric Cabot said the company faced a simple choice: Change or Die. So several years ago it developed its own Darn Tough Brand and set out to capture the premium sock market.

He says the military was a logical customer.

(Cabot) “We have the best of everything. And I think the people that are operating those machines and the people carrying the guns and loading and unloading and building up tents and things like that, they should have the best equipment. It seems to make sense.”

(Dillon) This week, Ric Cabot led a tour for congressional staff members. The congressional delegation helped with the Army contract. And Ted Brady, a field representative for Senator Patrick Leahy, says the senator will try to do more.

(Brady) “It’s been a no-brainer. We’re going to do everything we can to keep as much business as we can coming to you.”

(Cabot) “It means a lot. I’ll let the employees know. Everybody knew you were coming today. It looks pretty clean, but we cleaned up. And it really means much because we’ve got people who have been here 30 years and everybody has a family, and whatever we can do to keep manufacturing here. It’s a team effort and we really need your support.”

(Dillon) Cabot Mills is now working with the Navy and the Marines to sell more of the Darn Tough socks to the military.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Northfield.

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