A Bit of Holiday Spirit: A Darn Tough Design Story

Chances are good that you don’t spend too much time thinking about what goes into your socks. At Darn Tough, though, that’s pretty much all we think about.

I think the average person would be pretty surprised at the level of detail that’s considered in almost every aspect of a sock’s manufacturing. That level of attention to detail is something that we’re encouraged to apply to every aspect of work here at Darn Tough, and for me that includes the art and design that we use to message to you.

Childhood Classics

I grew up as a child of the 90’s and early 00’s. This means that I can quote to you pretty much any obscure line from any sitcom that was on TV after 3:30 when school let out. It means that I can debate with a fervent passion which brand of high sugar snack food pairs best with which high sugar soft drink. And it means that I spent an inordinate amount of time parked in front of various video game consoles testing my mettle against many a pixelated foe.

Crossed hiking feet with bitmap images overlaid of a tree, mug, and socks

When I was young, I had a huge love for these now-classic video games. Original NES, Super NES, Sega, N64, you name it. If I didn’t own it myself, I had a friend who did, and we had a list of games that we would play when we got together.

Part of what I loved most about these games was the artwork. I would spend lots of time studying the characters and trying to re-draw them myself, most often in the margins of my notebook at school when I could have been learning any number of more practical lessons.

A Bit About Socks

Fast forward to the present, you can imagine my delight when, upon being hired as a designer at Darn Tough Vermont and being educated on the ins and outs of the company, I came to learn that all of the artwork that’s featured on our socks, prior to knitting, must first be converted into that iconic bitmapped artwork that us 90’s kids know so well.

A Darn Tough retailer door inviting you to enter, with bitmap socks floating around it

It has to do with the way that knitting works, but to get those animals, skeletons, and nature scenes to reproduce on knitted socks, our talented product team must first convert the smooth vector lines into those classically squared off bitmap forms. Look closely the next time you pull on your favorite pair of Bear Towns, or VanGrizzles and see if you don’t all of a sudden hear the music from Double Dragon playing inside your brain.

My ears perked up when I learned that, and nostalgia flooded over me, my mind picturing Mario, Donkey Kong, Battletoads, and all my other 64-bit buddies from back in the day. Finding out that bitmap artwork was as much a part of Darn Tough’s DNA as it was my own was a delightful surprise, and one that I intended to dig into at whatever opportunity that might present itself.

A Little Bit of Holiday Nostalgia

This holiday season presented itself as the perfect opportunity. As we look towards celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2024, the conversation turned towards questions like: What is quintessentially Darn Tough? What’s in our DNA? And my mind immediately jumped to those beautifully blocky illustrations that used to blip across my TV screen.

This holiday season as you peruse Darn Tough’s website, or as you open your email (I sure hope you’re subscribed) to read messages from us, your favorite sock brand, you’ll see what I’m talking about, illustrations of our socks and iconic images of the holiday season arranged with the real life products which inspired them, all coalescing to help tell the story of a company that has warm and fuzzy feelings embedded in the strands of their DNA as much as they do the strands of the socks we knit.

I hope when you see them, they make you smile, make you think of some of your own nostalgic feelings towards those old games we used to play, or at the very least, make you consider buying a pair of the world’s best Merino Wool socks. If not for you, then maybe for someone special in your life; they do make great gifts after all.

Someone collecting sap to make maple syrup surrounded by bitmap snowmen, snowshoes, and socks

About the Author

Dan Romanelli is a Senior Designer in the marketing department at Darn Tough. When he’s not drawing bitmapped socks you can find him fly fishing, snowboarding, mountain biking or chasing his 3 year old daughter around the hills of Vermont.