Designing Socks: Every Creative Inch Accounted For

Written By:  •  Tuesday, January 15, 2013

If you’re already designing shoes, creating socks is a logical next step. But it took decades for the big-name apparel companies to create design-forward, performance-inspired hosiery. Now we have all we want in the world of socks.

Whether Nike Basketball opting for a colorful array of options or Adidas taking over the sock world with Robert Griffin III’s sock obsession, every exposed piece of fabric on an athlete serves as an opportunity to design and market.

Nike Basketball didn’t start creating high-performance socks until a cautious foray in 2007. Amy Frazer, a Nike senior designer working on socks, says it was really a desire to enhance an athletes’ performance experience that led Nike into the sock industry.

The first appearance of the performance sock—one of the first times socks came in different specs for different feet—came during a USA Men’s Basketball Team tournament in Las Vegas in 2007. Not only did the fit improve with the right-left differentiation, but enhanced cushioning added to specific areas of the foot and ankle improved the feel.

The validation from the USA Men’s Basketball Team was the first step to inspiring a sock transformation in the sport, says Nike promotional material.

Since 2007, the use of new materials and fabrics has evolved for performance. Now the design process mimics the intricacies of footwear design. Foot-strike cushioning aligns with pressure patterns for more comfort exactly where it is needed and the cushioning around the ankle and Achilles helps protect feet from abrasions during play. Thin ribbing from below the ankle to the mid-foot provides range of motion. Dri-FIT fabric is the norm, Nike says about its basketball socks.

“Merging athletes’ insight with the best in product innovation, functionality and style is where the magic happens,” Frazer says.

From inception, the Nike basketball “Elite Crew” sock featured a unique design on the back of the sock, a look Nike says they’ll never lose. Now sock designers work with footwear and apparel design teams to develop various colors and graphical looks to mesh with shoes, shorts and more. Adidas, as you would expect, features its own three-striped design, differentiating the brands of socks quickly.

The newest launch in the Nike sock line, the Nike Elite Sequalizer Basketball Crew sock, debuted this month and includes new graphic elements that match the designs of Nike’s big-name collegiate partners.

With all this fuss over uniforms and shoes, it was only fitting that socks received their due attention. And design. Right?

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Tim Newcomb

Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest covering news, culture, sports design and entertainment. He has written on uniforms and sports logos for TIME Magazine, Sports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. Visit his website here.