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Jun 9, 2018

What have been the changes in the specialist sock market

Graham Richards, Brand Director at Ronhill/Hilly/Altra, examines the changes in the specialist sock market

Having been involved in the specialist sock market (specifically for running) since 2002, I have witnessed a lot of changes during that period and, in turn, now look at the future developments ahead. In my opinion there have been two significant changes, namely: colour/fashion and innovation, coupled with the changes that have taken place in running and those running, in general, over the past ten years.

In saying that, nothing has changed in terms of the benefits of wearing a technical running sock, to maximise comfort and performance. Many runners do not realise that a non-technical sock, can cause a blister, and a technical sock is a good investment too, as it will wash, wear and perform better than a nontechnical sock.

Ten years ago (and even up to four/five years ago) running socks were predominantly white, with the odd trim colour, the only additions being a few black socks (for off road running) and pink/pale blue to cater for the ladies’ market. Nowadays socks come in all colours, patterns and designs and so in many respects match up with the bright running shoes and apparel and brands are catering far more for the mass running market as well as for ladies and younger runners.

Innovation, which can be split into a few different categories, including: technical innovation and design innovation has also developed during the past ten years. We have seen the introduction of new specialist yarns, from the likes of Invista, Optimer, and others, who have developed yarns that either offer better wicking, anti-microbial, or durable properties. Going further yarns incorporating Celliant technology for example, modifies visible and infrared light, recycling back to the body increasing blood flow and tissue oxygen levels!

A big change and growth has been witnessed in compression socks. Paula Ratcliffe was one of the first high profile athletes to wear a compression sock and at first they looked a little odd, but over recent years they have become increasingly popular worldwide and machinery and technology to make them has also developed. Compression socks and sleeves allow improved bloodflow and help flush lactic acid during and post training as well as racing.

Sock lengths have also changed over recent years, to accommodate the needs of all runners, including: socklet, quarter, low-cut, anklet, classic and knee.

In line with the above, there has, as we all know, been significant changes in the running market too in that period, especially the increase in the number of people running, the increase in the percentage of women running and the increase in mass participation events, such as Park Run and Race For Life, as well as an array of other race events too, and therefore brands’ marketing has had to take this into consideration.

It is important that sock packaging makes it easy for the consumer to be able to select the type of sock best suited for their needs, road, trail, etc, but also highlighting the key technical and design features – in many ways a ‘silent salesman’. It is really important that retailers introduce the key benefits of wearing a technical sock when the customer is actually trying on a new running shoe, and should be seen as part of the service, and not the hard-sell!

To conclude, it is just as imperative now to wear a technical running sock as it was ten years ago. They may have got brighter and more technical, but the key benefits of comfort and aiding performance by reducing the risks of the feet getting blisters remain the same, and it is important for specialist running retailers and brand marketing to emphasise this every time a person visits the store/shops online.

To let a customer spend £100 plus on a pair of running shoes and then not mention if they wear a technical sock, is not educating the consumer and in turn potentially letting them have a bad experience whilst running. That can’t be good!.

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