Gina pitched her parents what to them seemed like a radical idea: an organic cotton sock brand for the eco-chic set.
“I didn’t understand about organic anything, let alone socks,”
says Terry. “And I knew it would be very expensive to start a
brand.” Terry’s main sticking point was that organic cotton
costs several times as much as standard cotton. Gina spent a
year making the business case, pointing to the higher price
tag and margin on a premium fashion product. She finally
persuaded her parents—who were also out of options—to
fund the venture with $100,000 from Emi-G’s co;ers.
Gina hatched what would become two new brands, Zkano
and—later—Little River Sock Mill, by combining her sensibility with Emi-G’s established relationships and machinery.
To find organic cotton—which was typically sold only in large
quantities—she contacted one of Emi-G’s longtime yarn
vendors, which sourced it from Turkey. She found a maker
of heavy-metal-free dyes in North Carolina, and worked with
her parents’ plant manager to reconfigure Emi-G’s machines
to produce small batches of patterned, multicolored socks.
A local marketing firm was so moved by Gina’s made-in-
Alabama mission that it gave her a discounted rate. She sent
samples to bloggers, who helped direct tra;c to Zkano’s
e-commerce site, built by a relative. Trade shows were prohibi-
tively expensive, so Gina built buzz at farmers’ markets and
local events for the socks, which cost as much as $30 a pair.
In 2010, Whole Foods picked up Zkano; then, five years
later, Martha Stewart selected Little River Sock Mill—Gina’s
second line, specifically for specialty boutiques—for an
American Made award. Today, Zkano sells primarily online,
while Little River has accounts with some 200 retailers.
With new revenue coming in, Gina’s parents were able
to slowly rebuild Emi-G by doing smaller, limited runs for
clients such as a medical company that sells socks to hospitals. Zkano and Little River now account for roughly half
of Emi-G’s revenue, which is approaching $3 million.
Gina still lives, with her husband, in Birmingham, about 100
miles from Fort Payne. She commutes three days a week, working the rest of the time remotely. And she now has a permanent
home base at the mill—that spare o;ce, which for years was
used as a storeroom. “I’m in it,” says Gina.
Emi-G Knitting’s Fort
produces basic Emi-G
socks, along with
Zkanos (pictured on
Gina) and Little River
Sock Mill socks—has
THE EMI-G CO-FOUNDER
HAD TO LAY OFF VIRTUALLY
THE ENTIRE STAFF.
THE FORMER REAL
ES TATE AGEN T
PARENTS A CONCEPT FOR DESIGNER