LEXINGTON, N.C. (AP) — When the United States Winter Olympics team marches in the parade of nations in Sochi, Russia, in February, their feet will be warm and cozy thanks to a hosiery company located in Davidson County.
Bradley Tysinger, owner of Tysinger Hosiery in Silver Valley, has made 900 pairs of customized merino wool blend socks that will be worn by the U.S. athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
"It is an opportunity of a lifetime," Tysinger said. "How many people get the chance to contribute to our Olympic team? It's not going to make me rich, but it is an honor."
Tysinger is the son of Vernon and Shirley Tysinger, who started the hosiery company in 1974. In the nearly 40 years since the inception of the business, Tysinger Hosiery has survived the Titanic-like sinking of the textile industry in the area. Tysinger believes its success has been because the business did not try to compete with massive overseas production, plus it created a niche in the market that others just can't fill.
"We depend on diversity and quick turnaround," Tysinger said. "We can't do huge volumes, and we don't depend on just one kind of sock. We can do small batches that can be completed quickly."
Because of this diversity Tysinger had the opportunity to knit the socks for the Olympics team. Tysinger said that the issue began back in 2012 when it became known that the athletes' uniforms for the London Games were made in China. Ralph Lauren Corp., which has been making most of the athletes' clothes since 2008, vowed that every stitch of clothing worn by future Olympians would be made in the United States. Since this is such a big event and such an emphasis has been placed on the making of the uniforms, Ralph Lauren had some pretty strict specifications when it came to the socks that would be worn in the cold Russian climate.
Ralph Lauren contracted the socks to be made through Renfro Corp., which is one of the largest hosiery manufacturers in the world and also owns the Polo license for socks. Due to the type of wool and the extreme thickness, Renfro needed a specific machine to make the Ralph Lauren socks. Tysinger Hosiery happens to be one of four companies in the country that owns a machine that is capable of knitting socks to this specification. Renfro, whose corporate headquarters is in Mount Airy, had worked with Tysinger before, knew his work and gave him a call.
"We get so many calls about off-the-wall stuff, and 80 percent never turned into anything, so I was skeptical at first," Tysinger said. "But they hand-delivered the wool and waited in the parking lot while I ran a rough sample."
Tysinger said the Renfro representatives told him the hurry was because he needed to have the sample "on Ralph's desk" in New York the next morning.
"I asked them 'Ralph who?' and they said 'Ralph Lauren,'" Tysinger said. "Talk about being the most important sample I have ever run in my life."
It worked out for Tysinger because after a few adjustments to the original sketch, he received final approval and began production on the Olympics socks. Tysinger said not only is Renfro a North Carolina-based manufacturer, but the wool itself was woven at Hickory Throwing Co.
"These socks are very high quality," Tysinger said. "They are so thick you really don't even need shoes."
Although it was only a run of 900 pairs of socks, Tysinger said it is something he will always remember. He said he plans on watching the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies with a little extra pride.
"I have a pair, and I am keeping them for my daughters," Tysinger said. "I don't think they understand right now what an honor it is, but when they grow up I hope they understand. Even though no one will know I was the one who made them, it is still very special to me."
Information from: The Dispatch, http://www.the-dispatch.com