Recently I was asked to evaluate and breakdown a product to its roots, using Carolus Van Linnaeus's form of classification. Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, was a Swedish scientist who believed that every product came from an animal (alive), vegetable (something that grows), or mineral (from the ground). Below is a narrowed look at what goes into making Nike Dri-Fit Cushioned Socks. I refer to them simply as Nike socks; not to get confused with the various other types of socks (probably with similar production processes and ingredients) that Nike markets.
When I was first given this assignment, my mind went directly to a video I had watched in my first economics class. The video was about a pencil, and how not one person knew how to make a pencil. Sure, most people think about the lead or the wood required to make a pencil, but what about the people who make the machinery for those things, or the clothes and food for those employees?
My guess is that not one person really knows how to make Nike socks. Machinery, buildings, transportation, food, cleaning supplies, and just about everything else is probably involved in making a single pair of Nike socks.
Nike's Dri-Fit material is a high performance, microfiber, polyester fabric. It is designed to move sweat away from the body. But where does it come from?
Microfiber and polyester are both synthetic materials. Microfiber is made from leftover sludge used in oil refineries. Polyester is a mixture of ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate, or in other words is a mixture of chemicals that were extracted from the ground. So basically, that Dri-Fit material that you love is actually just a bunch of broken down and reorganized dirt.
Nylon and spandex are synthetic materials as well, and are made in a similar process to that of polyester and microfiber. The difference in all of these products are the specific and the amount organic compounds used, and the chemical bonding process.
Cotton comes from a plant that in the US is primarily grown in the southeast. The top three countries in cotton production are China, India, and the United States. Nike manufactures products in all three of these countries, and probably contracts cotton from various places worldwide.
So there it is, a couple of minerals and vegetables are the only buffer between your sweaty feet and $150 kicks.