Take a look up at night. There’s a whole universe of possibility out there. Everything around us is a product of long-extinguished stars, their potent energy and elements gathering over crazy long periods of time into something as unlikely as the planet we call home.
And it goes beyond the visible— just lace up and start a hike or drop in on your skis and you’ll be feeling the effects of gravity. No wonder there’s a National Space Day. This stuff is Carl Sagan-level amazing.
But what’s that all got to do with these socks, you ask, besides the name? Maybe, you’re wondering, we had our heads in the Exosphere when we came up with new Space Dye yarn?
Not to worry. Our heads may be in the clouds sometimes, but one look at a pair of these and you’ll agree our feet are still planted firmly on the ground. And from the fact that Space Dye became our hottest selling color in our Run socks, it seems like people out there are ready for liftoff as well. Here’s the story, from tech to launch to future plans.
We’re All Made of Star Dust, Even the Socks that Look a Little Different
Insider talk: Yarn comes through The Mill in what’s called a “cone.” And for the most part, all the yarn in a cone shares the same color throughout. That’s where we lit the wick on the Space Dye rocket.
“Space Dye, on the other hand, is a digitally-printed colorway,” explains Darn Tough Product Line Manager Owen Rachampbell. The process involves designing a 26-inch long “repeat” of colors at the yarn level. Owen and the team start with one tone, then add a different tone for another inch, and another, then repeat back to the first. “Then we feed one strand of yarn at a time through a digital printer to create an effect with whatever colors we want in a very precise pattern.”
With some tinkering, we could have made sure that pattern was knit starting in the same place each time, producing the same looking sock over and over. But you don’t have to have multiple PhD’s to know that change is one of the only main constants out there. So that’s what this style of sock celebrates.
“When we were knitting these, we loved the variability of how they knit up,” says Owen. “Depending on the knit structure, depending on whether it’s cushioned or non-cushioned, the pattern is going to be different not only pair to pair, but sock to sock.”
No one set is the same. No single sock is the same. “They still look great together, but there’s this random, cosmic effect.” That is where we get pretty excited. “Some of them look like the northern lights, some look speckled like the night sky.”
Spaced Out, But Still Tough
To be real, we can’t claim the win on the space race. But getting there in style, and in one piece? Because we’ve brought this technique to the finest-micron Merino Wool, we’ve got moisture management, durability, and temperature regulation on lock.
“The tech to make this yarn is new and its exciting,” says Owen, “and it looks that way too. But it’s also on Merino Wool, which is a natural fiber, so that is a wonderful juxtaposition.”
As far as ensuring you can go the distance without blowing out a thruster, it’s was simple: we chose to print rather than dye. “If you were going to dip dye this, you’d be constantly dying and bleaching, you might have to start and do other baths, you wouldn’t have the precision and you might be using dyes that affect the quality of the yarn,” says Owen.
From our experience, bleached or chlorinated yarns become brittle and less durable. And that’s not going to work for exiting this solar system on your next trek. Instead, says Owen, “We’re doing just the amount of printing in the exact places we wanted.”
It's Not Rocket Science. Or Is It?
Because we’re Darn Tough, getting something like this off the ground means a little more work than most. And because we can control of the process right here at The Mill, we have the ability to test a new fiber directly by knitting. “That’s just what we do,” says Owen. “We don’t want to put anything out in the market unless we know it’s high quality, and it’s the way we want to.”
The challenges were translating that repeating pattern on a computer screen to the knit structure of an actual sock. Sometimes, when you go from flat to 3D, things can look completely different. It took some tinkering, but in the end, Space Dye was off and flying.
“It looks cool and its backed with the same lifetime guarantee,” says Owen. “It’s not just something we’re doing because it looks good. We think this is a killer sock.”
Space Dye, Another Reason We Keep Our Eyes to the Sky
What keeps the product team honing in on new innovations like Space Dye? Owen thinks there’s a parallel to looking deeper into the great unknown and knowing there’s so much more out there.
“The same curiosity and desire to discover that drives us when we look up to the sky is the mentality my team takes,” says Owen. “Yes, it’s just socks, but we love making something fun, being creative, and always thinking about more than what’s right in front of us.”
We may indeed be going deep on the space metaphor here, but make no mistake, we’re talking socks. And the Space Dye colors that were launched in the Run category are already best-sellers.
“Just wait until you see what’s coming next in Space Dye,” says Owen. “The purples, the teals, they’re right around the corner. We have exciting colors coming, and we are just psyched to get something with such a cool effect that has the Darn Tough quality.”