One of the best parts about this gig is that we get to meet a lot of folks along the way. Some folks become friends, and even feel like family. We are proud to call Walker McCrary a true friend. During our usual Wednesday lunch dates at Brown Gardiner for taco salads (you have to try this weekly lunch special), I pitched the idea to interview Walker, and he kindly accepted my request.
Here's the interview:
EM: What has been your favorite project to date?
WM: Making the rainbow selvage socks from the old WO selvage ID yarns, plying them together into rainbow yarns, and then building ragg socks with a great story was a really fun project for your store Hudson's Hill. But, I like most any and all projects. I once designed a warehouse several years ago, after taking some CAD courses at RCC (I also took Mandarin to aid my international work there). I designed conveyor systems and shelving systems. I once also designed a Hello Kitty program, running sheer hosiery for the brand with bows and their signature kitty repeating in the pattern. Another project that comes to mind is a SF-based company that would ship monthly packages with your color preferences for socks. Working with entrepreneurs is what I believe as my driving force and main field of interest. The most enjoyable technical project that comes to mind was retrofitting and creating a standardized procedure for dyehouse tub dyeing, requiring computerization, temperature control, and hot/cold water ratio management. Electrifying this was super interesting, I noticed an immediate augmentation in color quality, and it was an awesome opportunity to take an out-of-date, old school tacit procedure and overhaul it into modernized processes, and essentially idiot-proof.
EM: What style of sock knitting is your favorite, and which is your least, and why? This could also go for fiber type.
WM: My personal favorite are double cylinder socks, like the ones I run for Hudson's Hill, as well as 400 needle hosiery machines with intricate patterning capability. I also like tights and leggings, which are basically panty hose with the foot removed. You know we actually started Spanx with Sarah Blakely, however we never were named as the manufacturer and remained behind the curtain, something most big brands tend to do with their suppliers. On a personal level, my dream sock would be a double cylinder boot sock made out of Alpaca, a hollow-core natural hair that heats and cools quicker than any other natural or synthetic fiber available. It's expensive, but the benefits and performance is incredible in a direct comparison to any other fiber type.
EM:I wholeheartedly agree about the dream sock concept. Let's try this next! Ok, so how many socks were in the largest order you ever received and processed? Are we the smallest request aside from samples and developments?
Shewwwww, that's crazy to think about. At one point in time, I was the largest buyer of hosiery in the world and the largest exporter of hosiery from China for about ten years in the early 2000's (I say hosiery because Renfro was the largest in socks, and there is a distinguishable difference), when I was with Acme-McCrary, my family business started in 1909 by my great-grandfather. I left AM in 2012 after my father retired and management changes created a good window of opportunity to leave and start my own business, McCrary International, catering to smaller accounts like Lane Bryant and Express (Ha, Smaller!). But Acme-McCrary was running programs for Wal-Mart that included several styles with production orders as large as 11-12 million dozen pairs per season (121-144 million dozen pairs per season is approximately a quarter billion socks, y'all. Per season). Hudson's Hill is definitely the smallest customer I've had, but I enjoy working with y'all because it's very opposite of running programs for giants.
EM: Can you speak to your experience in the apparel industry, what you've observed, and where you think it is headed?
WM: It's hard to say where things are heading, but global tension is definitely playing a role now more than ever. Some production may be reshored, but brands will continue to find low-cost overseas options, in SE Asia and Africa. China has the infrastructure to support mass manufacturing, and these other countries with cheaper labor don't, so the supply chain is still intrinsically linked to China, so likely materials and machinery, etc. are all still coming from China to those places. This is why we are seeing a lot of inflation and tariffs, slowing down the imports, but it didn't really work, because of the global dependency having zero decrease. The trade war has really benefited Taiwan and South Korea, and we have more imports from Central and South America than ever thanks to trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere. There are so many high-tech places that are retooling their offering to cater to smaller quantities, nimble production, etc.
American manufacturing will come back to some extent, but there is nobody interested in really entering the textile manufacturing workforce, so blue-collar labor shortages abound everywhere, in every industry. Shipping is advantageous for domestic manufacturing, especially with fuel surcharge costs increasing to the point that they become prohibitive to the known and existing supply chain model that worked for the last several decades. Specialty manufacturing will continue to thrive domestically, because it will always have a place in the market and maintain demand from consumers and producers alike.
EM: Who are three brands, makers or artisans in the USA that you find inspiration from?
makes my favorite boots still made in America. But, it's becoming increasingly harder to say what is really made in America. GMC is an assembled in America vehicle, and I do own one for that reason. I'd love to one day have an offshore boat from Freeman Boatworks
, but that is grail-level. Ranger boats are my favorite brand of bass boats. I like Everything UTV
in Seagrove, NC, where they do all of the customization and retrofitting for my off-road vehicles, a big hobby of mine. Bricasti
audio components are made in Ohio, but again just like most others mentioned, using imported parts, but I will say they do make some of my all-time favorite audio equipment.
EM: I gotta ask this one to everyone I interview...what's your favorite flavor of ice cream?
WM: Well, you know I've been on this Keto diet since 2019, so I really try my best to keep carbohydrate intake minimized. I don't really eat ice cream, but when I do I love Butter Pecan, a flavor I've loved since I was a kid, and now they make a Keto version that has 4 grams of net carbs by REBEL.
EM: What's your favorite local place to eat? Breakfast/brunch? Lunch? Dinner/Supper? What do you order?
Breakfast --- I like Hops BBQ in downtown Asheboro, I order the "Walker Special" --- a cheeseburger omelet all the way with mustard, chili, slaw and onion. A lot of protein right there. I eat that at least once a week. Delish.
Lunch --- 220 Grill in Asheboro, I always order the hamburger steak and a salad with green beans. It's just a mom and pop place that is a local hangout near RCC. Quick, in and out and cheap with good-sized portions.
Dinner/Supper --- Brewskis in Asheboro, it's a really cool and chill vibe of a place that used to be a beauty school now converted into a restaurant. Live music, Sunday brunch, but for dinner I always order the cauliflower crust Italian flatbread and a decaf latte, hot. I don't drink with my meal, so I wait 30 minutes, and then have my latte after my flatbread. My wife and I eat there every Friday night and most Sundays after church.
EM: I haven't tried any of these, and I'm a local hole in the wall grub spot kinda guy, so trust when I say I'll be calling you to daytrip to try all of these! So, what makes Randolph County/Asheboro special and why do you call it home?
WM: Well, I mean I think it's because it's always been home, it's where I grew up. It's grown a lot through the years, not as much as other small cities and towns in NC, but it still has the feeling of being a small town where people know each other, it's affordable, the tax rates are fairly low in Randolph County. Plus, it's close by the airport and Greensboro, and with new roads it's only 20-30 minutes to be in a more bustling place in any direction. Plus, it is right in the middle of everything, mountains, beach, lakes, etc., so with a 3 hour drive you could get to water, peaks, trails, lakes, everything.
EM: If you could go anywhere in the world for fishing or off-road vehicle driving, where would it be and why? If it's fishing, what are you fishing for when you're there? If off-road, what are you driving?
Fishing --- I want to go to Bahia Solano, on the west coast of Colombia, and Cabo Verde in Africa. In Cabo Verde I would be fishing for Marlin, and in Bahia Solano I would be fishing for Tuna, where they hit top water and I hear it's insane. This is hard because I love bass fishing, and I love Lake Okochobee, and some of those bigger lakes.
Off-Roading ---- A lot of people like to go to Moab, rock crawling and riding, that would be cool. I would be in my RZR Pro R. I'm not as into the mudding and flinging dirt, but more into the riding and good, well built trails and scenic views.
EM: Can you give a small piece of wisdom someone taught you along the way that has helped you in life and your career?
WM: I have several quotes that I think are the most important ones in my life:
Trust but verify --- you should always have trust, but always verify, goes along with my sourcing theory.
In a company, everyone's business card should have the words SALES on it --- no matter your job in a business, customer service and experience must always be kept in mind, even if that isn't your true role.
My favorite saying is Always underpromise and overdeliver --- the customer is happy when you give them a reasonable timeline and pad it a bit, then deliver early. This is so much better and less problematic than promising but not being able to deliver.
For those interested in seeing some of the products we manufacture locally with Walker's guidance, check out our Tube Sox, Warp Ragg Sox, Boot Sox, and Merino Ragg Sox.
Can I just say, damn, Walker. You friggin' killed it! And the quotes are ones that can inspire our journal readers for years. Thank you, friend.