Brands We Love: Smartwool

VJ's Favorites

It’s life hack time. 

  1. Round up all those socks you (and your family members) don’t wear. You know what I’m talking about—they’re outgrown, widowed by the washing machine, your big toes always poke through the ends, they fall down to your ankles or they don’t hold your heels anymore … those socks.
  2. Stop telling yourself that they’ll find their match (there is no Tinder or Bumble for solo socks), they still fit, or they have any purpose besides amateur puppetry.
  3. Send them away for recycling. 

Wait. What? Who even does sock recycling?

Smartwool. As of April 2021, Smartwool recycles socks through its Second Cut Project. So far, they’ve taken back 375,000+ single socks. By weight, that’s more than 30,000 pounds—15 tons!—of socks.

And why? Because, otherwise, discarded socks go to landfills, but they don’t have to. Reclaimed sock material—or shoddy, to be specific—can find a new purpose in life. Currently Smartwool uses recycled socks as the interior in its K9 Camp Cushion for dogs.

The company and its sock recycling partner, Material Return, are exploring how to convert the recycled yarn—whether wool or otherwise—into other products. And you can be part of Smartwool achieving 100% circularity by 2030. You just add a free take-back mail-in bag to any Smartwool order, stuff it with clean socks of any material, attach the prepaid shipping label, and send it off.

Problem identified. Plan created. Program started. Progress ...

The brand’s origin story follows this path too.

Smartwool got its start when two ski instructors in Steamboat Springs said enough was enough about their constantly cold feet. Wool, and specifically Merino wool, solved the cold-feet problem. Also, wool didn’t retain odor and provided valuable thermoregulation and moisture-wicking. That’s right. Natural wool fibers take moisture away in the vapor state, i.e., before the liquid (sweat) state. The brand now offers socks for a host of active pursuits and preferences.

The base layer, the company’s other signature product, came later, but with a similar origin story. Existing long underwear just wasn’t good enough for a long—or short!—day outside.

Smartwool is now part of VF Corporation alongside Timberland, The North Face, Vans, JanSport and many other on-the-go and outdoor lifestyle brands. And it’s still solving problems. Inclusive sizing is on the brand’s agenda too.

Put simply, there is no single shape of person who spends time outside and needs clothing that performs for their chosen activity. Smartwool responded to users’ needs and launched plus-size base layers in the fall of 2019. Smartwool will soon offer additional silhouettes and broaden the range of colors and patterns in this product line.

We celebrate this Colorado-born brand for its consistent attention to identifying when something can be better, going out and addressing it, then scaling up to share the solution with others. This is true inclusivity, and we hope for more of it in the world. Thanks for setting the example, Smartwool. Now, hop to it. Follow those sock recycling steps!