Limited Edition by Limiting Waste: The Overstock Project

An employee at the Mill checking an overstock sock knit in bright orange

Knitting socks with overstock yarns helps us out in two ways.

  1. We get use out of our inventoried raw materials that are becoming deadweight
  2. Before we have to downcycle it, we give it a life.

We'd love to tell you that the collection of socks we just knit using overstock yarns resolved our entire raw material waste stream, but it didn't. Not really much of a dent. But it was a process several dedicated themselves to, and through it, learned a lot, taught quite a bit and gave us a foundation to work off.

Overstocked

So what is this collection of overstock yarn socks? This spring, we started knitting socks using yarn we had excess stock of, yarn that had no future to become a sock if we didn’t seek out a solution. Sure, we could downcycle it, but our desire is to be more responsible by using our raw materials as intended, because that maximizes their lifespan.

A quick note on downcycling: we don’t send any of our yarn, excess or scrap, to a landfill. Instead, if we can’t use yarn for its primary use, we work to get it in the hands of partners who can give it a new life.

One awesome example is Bobolink Yarns, a small Vermont company who plies our excess fine sock yarn into hand-knitting Northern Wool yarns for local artists and casual knitters.

Two skeins of Northern Wool yarn next to a Merino Wool yarn cone from Darn Tough

Even with great partners like Bobolink Yarns, there’s more we can do, which led us to ask the question of how could we take better ownership of our own waste.

We Are the Mill

If you haven’t heard us say that yet, you probably will at some point. We take pride in owning the sock-making process from start to finish.

We source and purchase materials, own the knitting machines, and inspect every sock before it ships out the door. We know the people who make our socks (know some of their kids, too). It’s why we’re so confident in our socks, and that is why we can guarantee them for life.

Woman checking on knitting machines at Darn Tough Mill in Vermont

But owning the process, owning our Mill, means owning our raw materials – mostly (you guessed it) yarns. If you’re wondering where all the overstock yarn comes from, that’s where you’ll find the answer.

We Have a Lot of Yarn

Sometimes in the sock-making process, we miscalculate, or our plans just don’t work out. When that happens, we pivot – change directions, change colors, or even cancel a sock. Our yarns have a long lead time, so if we must change course late in the game, likelihood is the yarn we planned to use is already at the Mill.

Cones of Merino Wool yarn in dark blue

The result - we end up with yarn that doesn’t have a use. That is the yarn that we’re calling overstock. But that yarn is still good yarn, we still want to use that yarn, not just downcycle it. The question was, how?

Knitting Socks from Overstock

Designing socks specifically to use overstock yarns started as an idea, and as it developed, a project that our Product Team, specifically Product Developers Kate and Olivia, labelled painful and enjoyable.

“Fixing your problems is not fun,” shares Olivia. “Fixing things shouldn’t be an easy process. Changing how we do business is hard, and it’s a process. It’s work, it’s growth. Growing pains hurt, but they result in something really beautiful, like these socks.”

The first challenge? Seeing if we could make a good-looking sock out of a strange array of overstock colors.

A bunch of brightly colored overstock socks getting boarded

That’s where Product Designer Alex jumped in. In the spirit of not wasting anything, she dug into our sock design archive for ideas that never made it to market, ultimately landing on a patchwork design for the Renew overstock socks.

Why patchwork? Not only does it use a lot of colors, but the design itself reminds you of patchwork quilt, an age-old technique for not wasting fabric scraps. The pattern also speaks to the different hobbies and DIYs many of us picked up during the pandemic.

Alex picked up sewing again, something she hadn’t done in years, and gave plant dying a try. With waste-free living in mind, she saved the core and outer shells from avocados she ate and used them to make pink dye. Maybe that’s part of why she included pink pops in the Women’s Renew in bottle green?

The Women's Renew overstock socks in bottle green, pink, and orange

“It was wild,” says Alex about picking colors (she tried around 20 different color combinations) from the overstock color palette trying to match them together. “We wanted these socks to be different by using unusual color combinations.”

Alex’s favorite? The bottle green and coral combination in the Women’s Renew.

Renew and Beyond

Work put in by Alex, Olivia, and many other folks at the Mill resulted in two new socks we could offer on darntough.com that would help us begin to make a dent in our overstock Merino yarns. Ten Merino Wool yarns that were collecting dust have found new life because of these socks.

Four Darn Tough people at the Mill wearing four different classic socks knit with overstock yarns

But they didn’t stop there. They also took some our tried-and-true sock designs and created new color options using overstock yarns. They’re a bit different, but that’s why we like them.

Here’s the socks and colorways using overstock Merino yarn, as of when we wrote this blog post:

Shop all our limited edition overstock socks here.

Changing Our Habits

We learned a few things during the making of these socks. The puzzle of combining crazy random yarn colors into attractive socks, among others. For the Product team, the big takeaway was simple: the amount of yarn we have, how that speaks to the need to change our consumption habits and rethink how we order and use yarn.

For Olivia, working on these overstock yarn socks gave her a new passion for discovering how to use up that excess yarn in meaningful ways.

The Solid Basic socks getting boarded with their new overstock green, blue, and pink colors

We know we’re going to keep challenging ourselves to improve our process, whether that’s through continued overstock socks or different programs. Our request to you: support us as you’re able on our journey to be more sustainable, as we keep making improvements, large and small.