A northern Iowa company that’s been making socks for over three decades has a launched new product that literally puts corn on people’s feet. Fox River Mills is making socks using yarn made from corn.

Fox River Mills president Joel Anderson says the socks are 100 percent biodegradable. “We get approached, as you can imagine, by a lot of yarn manufacturers or yarn suppliers every year and it just so happened about a year and a half or so ago we were approached by some people — in concert with reading an article in Forbes magazine about this new NGO product from Nature Works which is a division of Cargill — and we started looking more and more into the yarn,” Anderson says.

“We’ve got a lot of customers especially in the outdoor market where we’re very well known that have been demanding more and more things that are leaving less and less of a foot print on the Earth and it was like ‘Hmm, these kind of come together.'” Anderson says it makes “natural” sense to use a commodity that’s readily available.

This year, about 410 million bushels of Iowa corn are put through a process called wet milling. Wet-milled corn is used to make sugars and sweeteners for products like soda pop. Now, it’s being spun into a yarn that’s knitted into the socks Fox River Mills is selling. Even though there’s high demand for corn to make all those other products, Anderson believes there’s enough to spin into yarn, too.

“We’re actually using the sugars in the corn and that’s what’s actually fermented like yogurt and turned into the polyelactic tablets and away we go,” Anderson says. “With more and more people becoming aware of ethanol, I think that’s just going to generate more and more excitement about what else can we do that’s biobased. I think it’s going to be a one-two punch.”

Fox River Mills produces nine-hundred different items, mostly socks but also gloves and hats. September 1st was the launch date for the socks made of corn, not cotton.
“We are expecting this to be revolutionary,” Anderson says. If the corn-based socks are thrown in a compost pile, they’ll degrade in 47 days so that nothing’s left but a little nylon.

Fox River Mills, which has about 300 employees, occupies a three-hundred-thousand-square-foot building on the northwest side of Osage in Mitchell County. The company was founded in Wisconsin in 1900 and the firm’s Osage plant is the oldest hosiery manufacturing facility in North America.

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