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Gina Locklear was not planning on getting into the family business making socks, but her desire to lead a sustainable lifestyle and her appreciation for her north Alabama roots inspired her to rejuvenate the tradition of sock-making in Fort Payne.
Fort Payne, Ala. became known as the “Sock-Making Capital of the World” in the early 1900s. Locklear said in its heyday, one out of every eight socks worn across the globe came from Fort Payne.
Locklear’s parents opened their own sock mill in 1991 making socks for Reebok and other brand names. But in the early 2000s the local mills began to shutter as a result of manufacturing business moving overseas. Today Locklear’s parents’ mill — Emi-G Knitting — remains, but it’s her own sustainable fashion sock brand zkano, pronounced zuh-kan-oh, that has taken off and given new life to Fort Payne’s hosiery industry.
Locklear graduated from Samford University in 2002 and worked as a realtor in Birmingham before meeting her husband. Her journey to lean-living and an organic, sustainable lifestyle inspired her to dive back into the sock business. In 2008, inspired by a greener way to revitalize her community, Locklear founded zkano socks. Zkano is a Cherokee phrase meaning “the state of being good,” a call back to the Native Americans who once called north Alabama home.
Zkano is known for their all organic cotton materials and low-impact dyes, which contribute to a lower carbon footprint (or sockprint). Zkano’s whimsical designs and fashion-forward construction have brought Fort Payne’s sock history into the future.
“I’m heavily inspired by nature,” Locklear said. “And then things that are Southern. So we like to incorporate a lot of that into (our designs) whenever we can. “
Locklear was featured in the New York Times as the “Queen of Socks” in 2016 for her innovation in keeping a local trade alive.
She attributes her company’s success to its focus on the brand’s audience. She once sold her socks in Whole Foods around the country, but now chooses to partner with smaller mom and pop shops and boutiques who share her vision for local flair and sustainability.
Locklear still lives in Birmingham, but commutes an hour and a half to Fort Payne for three days each week. She doesn’t want to stray from what she knows and does not plan on expanding production to any other clothing items. But she hopes to continue searching for more sustainable ways of making her socks and new designs from her surroundings.
“I’d like to just work to keep growing, Locklear said.