If the sock fits…

Customers are more aware of the environment than ever, so stocking goods where you can vouch for their enviro-credentials is a good move. teko’s socks are packaged in the friendliest way possible, down to new packaging that uses 50 per cent less recycled card than before, and uses soya-based inks. But there’s a lot more to the brand, as Gordon Fraser told us…
SGB:  Gordon, what is Anatom?
Gordon Fraser: We’re an Edinburgh-based specialist distributor of niche products to the sports lifestyle, medical and industrial markets.
It’s all driven by feet really; where we see an opportunity to work in fitting feet, and where the result is meaningful, it usually means it’s got to be performance footwear then that is us.
The lifestyle part of that is probably the part where we operate in that business through one of our brands – ‘life is good’ – but the other markets are very much performance. The performance footwear aspect of that businesses is what interests us, so niche sports markets – for example outdoor running, cycling, we’re actually just breaking into the golf market, those markets are more interesting to us than a general sports market like football, cricket, rugby.
When it comes to socks, we really see the sock as an interface between the foot and the shoe and if we take the foot, the sock, the insole and the shoe and you put it together you can have a very true system, a true performance fit looking at every aspect of, and component of, the fit. This is something we’ve been involved in now for 15 years, running independent training academies for specialist footwear retailers.
SGB: How long have you been distributing teko socks?
GF: Since late January this year.
SGB:  Presumably as distributors you look around for interesting product, product that fits in with your beliefs and your credibilityo as a company – presumably teko just fits comfortably into that?
GF: Very comfortably. It’s not only that it’s got a very technical performance aspect to it but it’s challenged the supply chain and the manufacturing processes to be an environmentally friendly, or eco-friendly company and that’s vital for the future. Our strap line for Anatom is ‘the future now’, we pride ourselves on being a future-focussedfocused company; now you’ve only got to read the newspaper, get on any web site and everyone’s talking about the environment but there are very few companies who are doing anything about it, maybe because they’re an established businessses or they’re in an industry where it’s difficult to do these things. Being in the sock business, I would say teko is relatively unique in terms of its position but it’s totally unique in terms of its commitment and pragmatic approach to the whole supply chain.
SGB: What materials are used in teko socks?
GF: They use a range of materials, one of the most important ones being the teko-EcoMerino which is an organic wool, certified by GOTS [Global Organic Textiles Standard], and that is to give wool a shrink resistance. Most wool suppliers will wash it in chlorine or a chlorine-based solution to take away the shrink which in ‘old language’ is a super wash, which people have been doing for years, but teko only works with processes which are chlorine-free so we can still achieve the same softness, the same durability, the same itch-free fine wool but without any of the bad chemicals in the process.
We also use teko-EcoPoly which is recycled polyester from 100 per cent post-consumer plastics and post-industrial polyester waste, and it leaves a very soft, extremely durable fibre which we use. We combine that with the wool in some of our styles but it can also be used on its own because teko-EcoPoly has very good characteristics for running, or a if you’re in a very hot situation it will evacuate the moisture very quickly from your skin.
We also use Ingeo which is a fascinating new fibre. It’s an oxymoron, a natural synthetic made from maize; they use the starch in the maize and basically process it into what they call a polylactide and then it’s made into a synthetic. The great thing about Ingeo is that it’s totally biodegradable, so once you’re finished with your socks you can shove them in the compost bin and they will biodegrade over a period.
And finally, there’s teko-organic cotton which is something that’s a great fibre for lifestyle use. Cotton is particularly a performance fibre because it contains its moisture very effectively – that’s why towels are made of cotton, because it’s the best on the market for that.
The fabrics are sourced as close to the factory as possible, so there’s very little carbon production in the transport element of it.
SGB: Often when you get products that have a reasonable amount of recycled materials in, it can affect the cost. Is the price point of teko socks comparable to other performance socks?
GF: It’s about the same, we’re managing to keep the prices fairly competitive. We’re never going to be the cheapest product on the market, but we have no intention of being the most expensive either. Wool is the most expensive component in all of these fibres by a very long way, but then the teko-EcoPoly, Ingeo and teko-organic cotton, the raw costs of these goods are obviously higher than if you were using their alternative but it’s not negative at all.
SGB:  What’s the reaction to the socks been like in the UK?
GF: It’s been tremendous. I think a lot of the reaction to that has been the openness and willingness for the outdoor dealer who we’re predominantly working with at the moment, kind of the core market for us… I feel as an industry we’re at the forefront of the environmental movement and I think that we have the greatest interest because we like to go out in the outdoors, we like to walk on hills, we’re not playing football in a park where the council’s looking after it, we enjoy the wilderness and getting out there. There’s a natural link to any product that is looking to do good things to preserve those wild areas, so if there’s a product that comes along and ticks that box for that retailer in that market it’s just an easier purchase for them because it’s essentially doing part of their work for them by saying we provide environmentally friendly products. And what we’re doing by the dealers who come on board with us, we’re making quite a song and dance with the local press on the fact that this dealer is selling a sustainable range of socks in their outdoor store because we’re sure it’s newsworthy.
SGB:  Are you supporting your retailers with any kind of retail merchandise?
GF: Our display is again sustainable, It’s made with a water-based MDF, and we use recycled metal for the structural parts, and the most environmentally friendly printing process that we can for the recycled card and signage on the displays. They’re fairly robust, these displays are not something we’re going to be looking to change every year as the fashion changes, these have been built to a pretty robust standard in the UK to the US specifications, we don’t have to transport them long distances and we expect them to last for some considerable time. The only thing we will be doing is changing the signage, headers and the message that’s on the racks, so it’s consistent with the brand.
It’s consistent with our approach that everything needs to be sustainable, it’s not ‘buy it high sell it cheap’, it’s not try and glory your business one hundred percent every year, none of these things are sustainable; don’t overwork your staff 20 hours a day because you’ll lose them all, let’s just set a pace where everybody can work efficiently and effectively. Part of that is saying to the retailer ‘We’re not going to be coming back to you every year or every six months with a new display’; this is very much part of the teko philosophy.
SGB:  If somebody finds the right product that speaks to them and speaks to the lifestyle they want, and to the moral and ethical standpoint they want, you’ve got a customer for life…
GF: In our market there’s a lot of good product out there, and there’s stuff that maybe looks better and arguably may work better in certain conditions but if you break it down in it’s basic form we’ve got wool, we’ve got synthetic and we’ve got cotton, and those three fibres offer different performance aspects. We offer them across our range at different price points.
When a customer comes along to look at teko, they’re being given a really nice offering and I think it would appeal to most people, I would say teko’s cut through a lot of the frilly bits that go with trying to be a conventional glitzy, highly marketing-orientated business, they’ve really focused on their product and their process, and maybe that’s a new world order… Who knows, maybe that’s more attractive for people in the future, I certainly think it is, I mean you only have to look at the rise in things like Fair Trade coffee and the acceptance that people will pay that price to be aware that the product they’re drinking is Fair Trade. I think it’s fantastic, because it’s us taking responsibility for the sort of consumerist world that we live in. We want our Starbucks but we’re actually very happy to pay a little bit more and be content that the farmers that grow it are being paid a fair price.