Quality: The Furthest Thing from Boring

We have yet to produce our best socks is written on the wall at the darn tough mill

"We Have Yet to Produce Our Best Sock."

This was one of the first things I saw on my first day at Darn Tough. And has since become instilled in me, passing the statement that is painted on the wall of our Mill, in the hallway that leads me to my desk, every day. It was when I saw that, I understood, Darn Tough was where I was meant to be.

I work in Quality, which to me, means facilitating change. We have yet to produce our best sock = continuous improvement, and that’s what I aim to do.

Quality: A Definition

qual·i·ty — Oxford Living English Dictionary

The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.

Quality worker at darn tough checking that sock meets our specifications

When most people ask about your job, it goes something like this: “Hi my name is such-and-such – I’m a teacher, I’m a nurse, I’m a restaurant owner, I’m a lawyer.” All relatable and important careers.

When introduce myself, it goes more like this: “Hi my name is Diane. I’m the Quality and Continuous Improvement Manager at Darn Tough socks.” Instantly I see the excited look on their faces.

"Darn Tough! Those socks are amazing; I love them… what did you say you do there?"

Rows of the Number 2 hiking socks that have been inspected for quality

I start explaining my role, and instantly I can see their eyes glaze over and interest level decline. It’s over, I’ve lost them. Why?! Is quality boring? Is my job boring? I don’t think it is.

Quality is important in our daily lives; the food we eat, the education and healthcare we receive, medications we take, even the socks we wear. Quality is about constantly improving and making things better, by definition, making them excellent.It’s not the most exciting topic in a factory but the end result is so important. Why do people find this topic so mundane when it is so important?

Where Art Meets Science

Darn Tough socks are part art and part science. The art is in the design – something I know nothing about. The science is in things like the process and the raw materials selection.

Woman working at the mill checking on the machines

This intersection of something beautiful (the art) and something functional (the science) is the essence of quality. The science of always improving is the quality portion of the sock development process. Our designers come up with an amazing sock idea. In quality, we develop and control the process to build this idea into the best socks they can be through detailed management of raw materials, specifications, and processes to ensure our customers receive the highest quality sock.

Darn Tough quality starts with high quality raw materials, like these cones of merino wool yarn

Quality is the confluence of raw materials, product development, production, and resulting in finished product quality, finished product excellence. It’s taking something complicated and simplifying it in a way that creates a systematic approach to achieve an end result. For me, it’s so incredibly satisfying to take a problem with can be very complex and create an elegant and simple solution.

Factories sometimes run in a constant state of firefighting caused by variations in processes. These variations lead to swings in product quality. As a result, we spend a lot of time, quarantining nonconforming materials, sorting out defects and scrap. It all adds up to wasted time, effort, and materials which affect our ability to delight customers with amazing quality.

One of My Favorite Quotes

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein

Trying new things and making mistakes is part of continual improvement. Darn Tough is expanding; buying new knitting machines and making more of our awesome socks than ever. We are currently experimenting with our process, making improvements to remove waste, and developing new socks while growing at a rapid rate.

Trays of new socks pulled out to show them at darn tough's mill

Our ability to change is directly related to our ability to try new things and make them better. Quality is change management, change to make new products, change to the process, change to source better raw materials, and change to make socks better. Constantly improving and creating systems that are stable and consistent make quality boring. Creating our best sock, that is the furthest thing from boring that I can think of…

About the Author

Diane loves spending time outdoors – skiing, hiking, and paddle boarding with family and friends and the family dog Harvey. She also loves gardening and cooking; she makes some pretty famous meatballs (Grandpa Phil’s recipe).