FORT PAYNE, Ala. – There used to be two kinds of socks. White socks to play ball, black socks to go to church. Then local manufacturers in this mountainous region, tucked between Birmingham and Chattanooga, invented the cushion sole sock during World War II for the army. The hosiery business hasn’t been the same since. Decades later, a fateful trade deal was signed and businesses chased cheaper wages in Central America in the 2000s. U.S. mills closed. Entire shop floors were scooped up and sent overseas on shipping containers. Mills left standing were whackamoled further by the Great Recession. Remaining sock makers are now persisting through a combination of strategies. Small batch, “Made in USA” manufacturing and marketing. Kickstarter campaigns to finance prototypes and ventures. Making goods for other companies known as “gray goods” manufacturing, the kind of work that keeps the lights on while you figure out the rest of the business. The end goal is to make finished, high quality goods on American soil, develop new products, and retain and create U.S. manufacturing jobs, a drumbeat of President Trump.

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