Mask mission for sock-makers

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Ashburton mayor Neil Brown, Labour MP Jo Luxton, agriculture minister Damien O'Connor and NZ Sock Co's Euan Sparrow.

NZ Sock Co is boosting production of its merino masks and can’t currently keep up with demand.

Owner of the Ashburton company, Euan Sparrow, said he had ordered three mask-making machines from Italy and had committed to meeting a big monthly overseas order of covid masks by the end of October.

The specialist sock-maker is using its innovative technology to make masks with anti-bacterial inners from wool, a natural fibre grown at its back door.

Euan said nearly 1000 masks were ordered online within a 14-hour window last week after minister of health Chris Hipkins said all Kiwis should have a mask on hand in case of community transmission and an escalation up to Alert Level 2.

NZ Sock Co is known for its sock science – socks produced at the Ashburton factory are worn by soldiers, outdoor adventurers and ocean racers in extreme conditions all over the world. Its biggest customer is Kathmandu.

The masks are merino wool and the company did a special run of red masks and socks for local Labour MP Jo Luxton and agriculture minister Damien O’Connor last week.

The minister responded by taking off his shoes and showing that he was already a fan of the local socks. The freebies will make their way to the Beehive’s top office.

The sock company had other messages too – they wanted government to know that two of its specialist workforce were anxious about their work visas. Euan has had trouble finding staff for the sock factory in New Zealand and the two migrant workers are a crucial part of the team; he needs to know they will be able to stay.

He said he advertised regularly in New Zealand and currently had up to 10 casual jobs going, working a nightshift to help produce and finish the masks being made.

Nearly 160,000 masks have been manufactured since lockdown, most sold around New Zealand and Australia.

The Labour MPs and visiting Ashburton District councillors were also shown the company’s latest sock technology, which turns strong wool usually used in carpet into soft wool for socks. It’s a secret process that Euan and his family have been working on for three years.

Wool from New Zealand is currently sent overseas for processing into yarn that is sent back to Ashburton and made into socks.

There is no processing facility in New Zealand that could handle the volume needed.

The sock company started 40 years ago with six staff making school and rugby socks.

Now it caters for the specialist outdoor market and wants to be able to trace its yarn to the sheep farmer.

The minister said wool was a natural and sustainable fibre with many uses, which was good news for the planet.