Sustainability and Socks

I’ve been announcing ad nauseum recently that I would be attending the annual Fred Meyer sock sale. It’s held on Black Friday, for six hours, and all socks and tights are half price.  Many people stock up for the year during this sale. I’m not a fan of Black Friday, but this is the one sale I’ll usually go for.

This year, I found out some friends from Girl Scouts would be coming down the the Fred Meyer in my neighborhood for the sock sale, and I agreed to meet them outside the store at 4:00 a.m. (doors open at 5:00).  We were close to the front of the line, and the crowd was orderly and respectful, so except for the getting up at 3:30 a.m., it was a positive experience.

I’ve wondered, though, whether this is a sustainable practice? It’s certainly good for our budget. But should I be buying from a local business (Fred Meyer was once local, but is now owned by Kroger)? Should I be looking for used instead of new? Army surplus socks? Organic socks? Make my own?

Let’s see what the other options might look like:

Shopping local: As far as I know, I’d have to travel more than a mile or two to find a truly local business selling socks. For instance, I’ve heard good things about Sock Dreams, but they’re in Sellwood, 11.6 miles away by car.  They do, however, offer free shipping for online orders. The socks look gorgeous, but the prices are at least twice what I paid at Fred Meyer.  I might try Sock Dreams sometime for a gift; they do have all kinds of pretty and unusual items. They also have wool socks for babies, which aren’t widely available.

Used socks: I know, it probably sounds weird to some of you. And you won’t find socks at all resale shops; I don’t recall seeing used socks at Goodwill, for instance. But I have gotten socks and tights for the kids from a local children’s resale shop before. This particular store is only a mile and half away, and often has good-quality Hanna Andersson socks and tights available. These don’t wear out as fast as most socks, and are still in good condition. Some of the socks and tights I’ve bought there have been worn by all three of our girls. Unfortunately, they mostly stock clothing up to size 8, and our eldest is wearing size 10 (girls) clothes and size 7 (womens) shoes, and is nearly five feet tall.  And being the eldest, she’s the one who actually needed socks and tights the most.

Military surplus: I haven’t tried this, but have been considering it. I like wool socks, and have been wondering whether they’d be cheaper from a military surplus store.  I didn’t get a chance to visit one; the closest that I know of is more than a couple of miles away.

Organic socks: Socks made from organic materials are generally considered more sustainable; they’re made from organic cotton, wool from organically raised animals, etc.  They cost two to three times as much as socks from conventional materials.  Fred Meyer does have a section of organic socks for women, and I did consider them, but did not purchase any.

Make your own socks: Ha.  If we waited for me to knit socks for everyone, we’d be waiting a long time. It is a skill I’d like to learn, but I’d rather not be dependent on my ability as a sock-knitter.

Sustainability has several different components. For instance, AIGA’s Living Principles for Design divides sustainable design into four streams: environmental protection, social equity, economic health, and cultural vitality.  It’s not just about protecting the environment; it’s about making life livable for people, too.  So even in buying socks, I don’t just reach for the organic version, preferable though it might be.  I don’t automatically assume that buying locally is my best option. I also need to consider what’s sustainable for my family’s budget, and how much time I have for shopping, and how much gas I should use to get there.

I’m comfortable with my decision to shop the Fred Meyer sock sale. If we need more socks, I’ll probably check the resale store, and for gifts (or fun) I might try Sock Dreams. And maybe, one of these days, I’ll learn to knit socks.