Q & A with the sock man

Kelly Nester, CEO of Nester Hosiery, grew up surrounded by socks, but the launch of Farm to Feet five years ago changed everything.
Author:
Publish date:
Farm to Feet Kelly Nester in black t-shirt smiling to camera

Kelly Nester started working in the family sock business, Nester Hosiery, more than 20 years ago. Farm to Feet grew out of Nester's 5 years ago.

Farm to Feet is a young brand but its foundation runs deep. Kelly Nester, CEO of Nester Hosiery, has been a leader in hosiery manufacturing for close to three decades.

Marty Nester, his uncle, founded the company in 1993. Within two years, Kelly joined, and the family duo knocked on the doors of outdoor retailers: an effort that lay the groundwork for Farm to Feet, the 100-percent American-made sock brand they launched 20 years later.

Kelly’s vision for the brand has been clear from day one: To create a transparent, farm-to-table model within sock manufacturing. That mission continues. This year, Nester Hosiery became the first bluesign-certified U.S. sock manufacturer—just in time for Farm to Feet’s fifth birthday.

To celebrate, SNEWS caught up with Kelly to reflect on the brand’s roots and what is on the horizon.

Farm to Feet, wool being processed Kelly Nester

This year Nester Hosiery became the first bluesign-certfied sockmaker in the U.S.

SNEWS: What are you most proud of about Farm to Feet?

Kelly Nester: I'm most proud of our proactive communication down the supply chain and the special team that we’ve built throughout that network.

All of the companies involved help us, work hard to dial in the product, and take pride in the finished goods.

Even the sheep ranchers who grow the wool— who often are not exposed to finished product using their wool—are intimately involved with Farm to Feet. They know our brand mission and we truly have a supply chain team.

SNEWS: How does local manufacturing affect the health of local economies?

KN: Local manufacturing has a very positive impact. Companies that make things generally create a broad range of jobs. For us we hire and develop skilled technicians, quality inspectors, process managers and even software developers. In our case a manufacturing job has been a very stable job, with an average length of tenure of 8.5 years. 

A smiling worker at Nester Hosiery/Farm to Feet fixing a sock machine. Kelly Nester

Employees at Nester Hosiery are fully invested in the American-made manufacturing story.

For us the outdoor recreation economy is the true catalyst. Our whole supply chain community benefits - not just our knitting facility but the packaging supplier, the yarn spinners, the dye facility, the top makers and even the sheep ranchers.

SNEWS: Having an American-made label is a huge challenge for most companies in the U.S. What enabled Farm to Feet to have its success?

KN: We have found the right partners for every step of the supply chain and have developed an amazing in-house team of innovators. As a knitter you are essentially an assembler of yarns, yarns that have different attributes working together to make the sock feel right, fit right, smell right and wash just right. Simply put, we have the right team down the supply chain and in-house to pull it off. Our socks, that happen to be 100 percent U.S. sourced, are the best in the world, and a fair value.

SNEWS: As more Americans are becoming conscious of where their products come from, what role will American-made products play in the U.S. market?

KN:I think the transparency trend is the stronger trend: It’s not only where a product is made, but also by whom and how a company values their employee relationships. People care about that. Consumers want transparency so that they can see the company’s social values, ethically produced items, and a commitment to the overall outdoor recreation economy. We happen to do it in the United States so our story is there.

SNEWS: What is the next five-year forecast Farm to Feet?

KN: We are in a growth phase at Nester Hosiery and expecting one also with Farm to Feet. Recently in June, 2017 we recapitalized the company, broadening our team and increasing our financial capacity. We’re continuing to invest in Farm to Feet, and we’re open for business for private label manufacturing with companies that are interested in robust, symbiotic, long-term relationships. 

Farm to Feet logo

Related

Lower half of a person sitting on the edge of a canyon with Farm to Feet socks on. Canyons are out of focus in the distance. | Farm to Feet celebrates 5 years

Explosive growth for Farm to Feet

Farm to Feet celebrates its fifth-year anniversary, and it’s difficult to believe that such a well-oiled company was introduced as recently as the 2013 Outdoor Retailer winter show. Despite the brand’s choice to specialize in what was perceived by many as a saturated ...read more

Man sitting on stool in front of sock wall at retail shop. A person's arms focusing a camera resting on a trip-pod direct the camera to take a picture of the man on the stool.

American made: The real people behind Farm to Feet socks

“Made in the U.S.A.” is an increasingly important tag for outdoor gear. Among U.S. outdoor consumers, 30 percent are willing to pay more for products made in America, according to an Outdoor Industry Association ConsumerVue study. But, arguably, the most important piece for the ...read more

Jennifer Pharr Davis with her infant son Gus in a chest pack, standing on a bluff with trekking poles and a backpack.

Jennifer Pharr Davis never stops

For endurance pursuits, a well-designed pair of socks is on par with an ultralight tent and chafe-free pack. Endurance hiker and author Jennifer Pharr Davis agrees: In 2011, she set the fastest known time (FKT) on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and was recognized as National ...read more

greasy-wool-blending-may-2017

From farm to factory to feet

There’s a place, way down east in Jamestown, South Carolina, where wild wool goes to get scoured, spiffed up, and ready for a transformation. It’s a factory on the banks of a river, and it smells like a potent cocktail of farm animals and grease. It’s called Chargeurs Wool USA, ...read more

Cliff Walker, ORCA CEO

A conversation with the CEO of ORCA Coolers

ORCA CEO Cliff Walker spends much of the year on the road, in business attire, selling his brand's coolers and drinkware. So when he’s home working in the Nashville headquarters, he comes casual, dressed in earth-toned shorts and a T-shirt. That down-to-earth approach is a good ...read more

Cliff Cox, farm to feet

One of the many American faces behind Farm to Feet socks

Cliff Cox, plant manager of Chargeurs Wool, is an anomaly in the workforce. In an era when the average U.S. worker occupies 12 different jobs before age fifty, he’s held onto his job for four decades. “When I interviewed here, I said that I was looking for something that I ...read more

wool-bale-3-may-2017

Wool, American style

Way out here in the middle of southwestern Wyoming, a massive operation is under way. Sheep rancher Jon Child—plus two of his sons, their wives, and their children—create a ruckus. It’s shearing day. By sundown, some 1,100 Merino Rambouillet sheep will have been liberated from ...read more

F2F_BearsEars_MBlue_165

Elevator Pitch | The sock to wear if you support public lands

National Public Lands Day is this Saturday, September 30th. This week we launched a limited-edition Bears Ears sock to celebrate the event and help support the Conservation Alliance Public Lands Defense Fund. We recently learned from the report submitted to the White House that ...read more

FarmToFeet_KellyNester.jpg

SNEWS Qs: Kelly Nester on his new 100% USA outdoor sock brand, Farm to Feet

Since 1993, Nester Hosiery in Mt. Airy, N.C. has been helping specialty outdoor merino sock companies manufacture their products, and 20 years later, it’s ready to expand the business with an outdoor sock brand of its own called Farm to Feet. Can the industry sustain another ...read more