The Smartwool Experiment

Charting the wear and tear on four pairs of Smartwool socks.

On Brand Loyalty

with 17 comments


Traffic to my personal website from the Smartwool domain.

A sock designer from Smartwool wrote me today and explained some of the reasons why my socks wore and what they’ve been doing to address the problem.  This post is mostly my initial response to that message.  I’ll be writing/taping a more detailed post this weekend that will include the email they sent in its entirety and any questions I still have. I hope that the folks who’ve been visiting from both Timberland and Smartwool chime in on the comments of that post and any other that they feel so compelled.

In 2001, a co-worker who I very much adored recommended Smartwool socks to me almost like it was a secret.  Even after wearing Smartwools nearly everyday in the years since, the memory of her sharing that secret with me is one of the first things I think about when I think about the brand.

I’ve only been at this experiment for a couple weeks and I’m already feeling quite conflicted because I’ve identified myself for a long time as the kind of person who loves Smartwool.  I’ve spent a lot of money on their merchandise over the past several years – a conservative guess would be $500-$600 (socks, scarves, sweaters, gifts) – and in justifying those purchases I’ve convinced myself that I’m worth it and so are my friends and family.

I know and appreciate the difference between a luxurious experience and an average one.
I am a generous person.
I support a company of folks like myself.
My money is going towards good.

Brand loyalty, in at least one sense, is knowing one’s self (or some glowy fantasy of who one might want to be) and accepting/honoring that.

Pitting myself against Smartwool to conduct this experiment is unexpectedly fraught.  I feel like I’m betraying good people.  That I’m not who I thought I was.  Like I’m ganging up on my own kind.

But I feel manipulated.  I’ve put my money and my recommendation behind a brand that has disappointed me.  I want them to redeem themselves or to be outed for not performing to (my) expectations (that quality/expensive socks should last longer than mine do).


Written by Beck Tench

November 20, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

17 Responses

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  1. My mother and I adore Smarwood. Game on . We will buy it from Fontana


    November 21, 2008 at 5:33 am

  2. I love Smartwool. I also love Ingenious. Do the math.


    November 21, 2008 at 5:36 am

  3. Queenofcouth – Is Ingenious another brand of sock? Do tell. Thanks!

    Beck Tench

    November 21, 2008 at 7:23 am

  4. Ingenious socks are (were?) made by wigwam. Not sure if they still make them though I had trouble finding them on their site.

    Anyway, the socks are made with a synthetic (hydrophobic) inner and a merino (hydrophyllic) outer. I’ve tested some of their boot socks and my wife has used some of their running socks.

    Some observations.
    The way that the inner synthetic part is woven is kind of web/net like and I found that wearing it long enough it made that impression on my foot’s skin and had the tendency to not be so comfortable. However, the outer merino was knit very densely and tended to be quite durable.

    Also, the inner liner seems to be made of Olefin which tends to absorb odors easily and gets crispy when you put it in the drier. So, over time the socks can get pretty smelly and crunchy.

    btw – wigwam’s “Ultimax” socks wick like crazy. Great for people with really sweaty feet. But, never put them in the drier and pretty much count on them smelling bad over time.

    Merino, really any kind of wool is naturally odor free. Synthetics tend to hang onto odor causing funk. Think of old plypro underwear or athletic uniforms. Yuck.

    That’s the skinny on Ingenious.
    – D.


    November 21, 2008 at 8:44 am

  5. Sock p0rn

    The site is pretty creepy. Bunch of chiseled naked “sock-only” wearing people bustin’ a move.

    Makes me wonder what “casual fridays” is like at wigwam HQ.


    November 21, 2008 at 8:49 am

  6. David – You rock! Thanks.

    Now I’m remembering my old softball team uniform. In addition to it being ill-fitting and odd-smelling it was the color of baby-poo. Go #13!

    Beck Tench

    November 21, 2008 at 8:50 am

  7. Re:

    How. Very. Odd.

    Beck Tench

    November 21, 2008 at 8:58 am

  8. Yes it’s true wigwam socks are my fave. Their wool cable knits for women kick ass but I don’t think they are Smart wool. I am very curious to see how this all pans out..


    November 21, 2008 at 12:32 pm

  9. Bella – Me, too. Do you machine dry your wigwam socks and do you find they get smelly over time?

    Beck Tench

    November 21, 2008 at 1:41 pm

  10. I hate to admit it but often I do put mine in the dryer because I am over worked. 🙂 When my friends and family ask me about either wool or nice patterned socks – I tell them to lay them out or hang them up.

    There are some pairs I dried in the drier and some I hung to dry. Currently I have about 5 pairs of my wool knee highs. The ones that I hung up or out have a better fit, more comfort and the cable knit looks better.

    I do have another pair my daughter wears alot that I believe may by smartwool. I’ll check and let you guys know.

    For the record tho– i do love Wigwam socks. Their unisex tubes hold up better than any of the other ones I’ve tried especially for athletics. Their cable knits are among my fave winter socks.. I have to stop myself from opening up a new pair whenever I feel like it.


    November 21, 2008 at 2:04 pm

  11. To answer the question, I do not find that they get smelly over time. With that said, I have so many pairs of socks in general so I may only be wearing a pair a 2-4 times a month.


    November 21, 2008 at 3:45 pm

  12. hey are you a perv?


    November 21, 2008 at 3:46 pm

  13. LMAO. I almost marked that as spam.

    Beck Tench

    November 21, 2008 at 3:50 pm

  14. sock experiment
    obviously a zealot
    hey are you a perv?


    November 21, 2008 at 5:13 pm

  15. ok. don’t make fun of me now. It just occurred to me that it might be the case..


    November 21, 2008 at 10:28 pm

  16. Bella, it’s all in good fun. Jeff (a.k.a. haikuku) and I recently entered (and subsequently lost) a haiku contest.

    That one is the best yet.

    Beck Tench

    November 21, 2008 at 10:58 pm

  17. got it. 🙂


    November 22, 2008 at 7:25 pm

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