People Who Have Been Here from Day One

A Darn Tough employee changing the yarn on a knitting machine

20 years ago, desperate and on the verge of losing the family business, we started Darn Tough Vermont. It was a Hail Mary that worked, saving hundreds of jobs in a domestic market that many thought was defunct. And it all started with three ‘what if’ statements:

  1. What if we kept making socks in Vermont?
  2. What if we knit the world’s best sock right here in the USA and Guaranteed it for Life?
  3. What if we create a product so darn good that it disrupts the sock industry and creates long-lasting jobs for our community?

These were all questions Ric Cabot, and his father Marc, asked themselves when Cabot Hosiery Mills was nearing bankruptcy in the early 2000’s. And thanks to some of our veteran employees, we knew we had the collective willpower to answer (and accomplish) all three.

In this post, we spoke to three long-time employees who’ve been with us for all 20+ years of Darn Tough’s history. We asked them what life was like before Darn Tough, what’s kept them here, and why they’ve always believed in the brand.

Raelene Flint — 27 Years

Raelene standing in front of her sock wall

First Job – Quality Inspector

Current Job – Line Manager Specialist

“This is the first [and last] place I’ll ever work.”

Raelene remembers it like it was yesterday. “We knew our jobs were in jeopardy, but nobody knew what to do.” One of Marc Cabot’s longest-standing employees, Raelene Flint first got hired by Cabot Hosiery Mills back in 1997. Her aunt and best friend both worked at the company, who encouraged her to apply. But even then, it was a job she thought would never last.

“27 years later, and here we are,” she says smiling.

A native of Northfield, VT, Rae quickly fell in love with her co-workers at the Mill. “It was a friendly group from day one. Everyone loved coming to work.” And 27 years later, Raelene says she feels the same way. But back in those days, feelings at the Mill weren’t always optimistic.

In 2004, seven years after Raelene got hired, the company’s future was at risk. At the time, textile manufacturing in Vermont was being outsourced and shipped overseas. “We got laid off that winter and were unsure whether we’d ever return to work.”

As a mother of two young boys, Raelene was fearful that she might lose her job. “But Marc and Ric made it clear they weren’t going to give up without a fight.” This gave her confidence, but still, Raelene admits she was doubtful.

To keep the company afloat and the family business alive, Ric Cabot proposed the idea of knitting a premium Merino Wool sock for athletes backed by the industry’s first Lifetime Guarantee. It was a radical idea that had legs, but it took everything from the Cabot’s – including taking out third mortgages on their homes – to see it through.

“Times were tough, but the resilience of the team and the Cabot’s commitment to keeping sock-making in Vermont carried us through.” And it all culminated in Burlington’s Queen City at the Vermont City Marathon. Raelene didn’t attend the race that fateful day in the spring of 2004, but she remembers the public’s response to our new product.

“It was clear people loved Darn Tough socks and wanted more.”

Raelene standing in the Mill, smiling

As demand grew, they started knitting more Darn Tough socks at the Mill in Northfield. “We were already knitting a lot of socks for other brands, so we weren’t sure if this one was any different.” But over time, Darn Tough Vermont was becoming a household name – at least locally it was.

When asked why she thought the brand was succeeding, Raelene pointed us to the company’s core values: “People wanted a product that was made in the USA. And since what we knit was Guaranteed for Life, there was a heightened demand for socks that could last forever.”

Soon, they started knitting more socks under the Darn Tough Vermont label, expanding the product line to include knits for hikers, hunters, and military personnel. “And it just kept growing and growing.” Suddenly Mill workers weren’t fearing for their jobs, and Darn Tough – now a registered trademark of Cabot Hosiery Mills – was thriving.

Her favorite memory of the company came after one of their annual sock sales in Northfield. As she tells is, Marc Cabot managed to find himself mounted atop an out-of-control floor cleaner that wouldn’t stop spinning. Circling wildly, the machine whipped Marc around like a faux cowboy on a mechanical bull, though it never put him or anyone else in danger.

It was the perfect way to end a busy weekend, she said, and a moment that Raelene will never forget. “It’s the little things that make the biggest difference,” she told us, “and it’s why I’ve always believed in this place, our product, and most importantly, our owners.”

Jimmy Cannon — 41 Years

Jimmy standing in front of a row of knitting machines

First Job – Custodian

Current Job – Master Machine Technician

“We truly believed we were knitting the best socks in the world.”

When Jimmy got hired in 1989, he was making $2.32/hour. As a 16-year-old custodian, he was ready and willing to make a name for himself. A tech-savvy adolescent with his future in front of him, Jimmy’s eagerness to learn catapulted him towards a career as a machine technician – a craft he’s since mastered.

Young but determined, Jimmy entered the workforce with the fortitude of a seasoned veteran. “And after 41 years here, my outlook is the same.” A proponent of learning how to do things the hard way, Jimmy told us that “if you keep at it, things just get easier.” But for a while there, certain things at the Mill only seemed to get more difficult.

After 15 years with the company, Jimmy was finding his stride. “But then layoffs started happening.” While most people at the Mill were concerned for their future, Jimmy’s mindset was largely unperturbed by the sudden changes. “I’ve learned to accept the things I cannot change. So yeah, I wasn’t particularly worried about losing my job.”

Now a 31-year-old man, Jimmy believed himself young enough to start a new career if he did get laid off. “Plus,” he said, “I believed in Marc and the owners to do right by the Mill workers.” Which ultimately, they did. Even during those dark times, Jimmy said he had the opportunity to jump ship and go elsewhere. “But that’s just not something you do to a family-business that’s done nothing but treat you right.”

Jimmy and another master technician working on a machine together

Around 2004, when textile production was being outsourced by most companies, Jimmy said that “other people around the Mill were apprehensive.” But his outlook, he said, was resolute and unyielding – kind of like that of Marc and Ric Cabot. His shared staunchness to the company and the product they were making was nothing short of admirable. And 20 years later, it still is.

“The passion,” he said, “was real.” He believed in the product so much that regardless of what the industry was going through, Jimmy and his team knew what they were making was worth its weight in gold. After the company unveiled its newest product at the Vermont City Marathon, Jimmy was confident that people would feel the Darn Tough difference – and he was right.

“The Cabot’s have always stood by their employees – especially when they were on the verge of going bankrupt and losing everything. It’s a testament,” Jimmy expounds, “to the family-oriented mindset that’s kept this place up and running when times were grim.” And it’s this reason why Jimmy identifies most with our company values surrounding family.

Jimmy at the Mill holding up his favorite sock, the 1466 hiker

A fun piece of trivia that Jimmy shared with us: the first four closed toe knitting machines to ever arrive in the United States were at our Mill. Which, we agreed, was pretty cool. “I love what I do. And I love the people I work for.” And all the memories, “the little things,” as Jimmy called them, “are a huge reason why.”

Tony Harris — 27 Years

Tony holding up his favorite sock

First Job – Machine Technician

Current Job – Chief Information Officer (CIO)

“Darn Tough was sort of like the phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Tony Harris has done it all. From cleaning bathrooms to chauffeuring socks around in the company’s box truck, Tony earned his stripes by doing what needed to be done. “In a company of 40 people, we all occasionally have to make sacrifices for the better of the team.”

A graduate from Norwich University in Northfield, Tony first met Ric and Marc Cabot while working at the town’s local pizzeria – Depot Square Pizza. In classic small-world-Vermont fashion, Tony met the father-son sock-making duo while helicoptering pies at the best (aka the only) pizza joint in town. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”

First hired in 1997 as a Machine Technician, Tony explained that he often wore more hats than were listed in his job description. “It was all hands on deck most of time,” Tony recalled, “because that’s what you do when you work for a small, grass-roots company like Cabot Hosiery Mills.”

A young Tony eating at a company party

Through that, though, Tony was able to learn new things and took advantage of training opportunities as they came up. But as business slowed and layoffs grew eminent, he and his team were reduced to only working three days a week. For a while it was very touch-and-go, and as Tony described, “there was a huge weight held over our heads.”

Marc and Ric were very transparent about the future of the company, but none of that deterred Tony. It was undoubtedly a tumultuous time to be working for a family-owned sock company in Vermont, “but that’s just the hand we were dealt.”

With the 2004 Vermont City Marathon looming, Tony recalls Ric sharing his idea for a premium Merino Wool sock backed by the industry’s first Lifetime Guarantee. It provided hope, Tony said, but still nobody really knew what was going to happen after race day. Luckily for Tony, he was fortunate to have a front-row seat to the action.

Being the jack-of-all-trades that he was, Tony had the pleasure of driving the company box truck to Burlington that day of the race. The truck was filled with over 3,500 pairs of Darn Tough’s first ever sock (a run sock), which Ric and Marc handed out for free to runners at the marathon that year.

“The mentality was – if we can’t do it, then nobody can.” And looking back, Tony is grateful that he was able to help the company do something they’d never done before – something that ultimately saved the business from going under. “Ric was adamant from day one: we’re a family that takes risks and supports each other, no matter what.” That sentiment, Tony says, is still just as relevant now as it was 20 years ago.

“We provide a sock solution,” Tony says when asked how he’d describe Darn Tough to someone who’s unfamiliar with the brand. “It’s an end-to-end process that we control. And though we’ve learned a lot, we’ve yet to produce our best sock.”