Faces of Trade: DeFeet

A Ride Around the Globe in DeFeet’s Socks

Based in Hildebran, North Carolina, DeFeet was created in 1992 by Shane Cooper, an amateur cyclist just looking to sell socks. Over twenty years later, DeFeet is now an internationally recognized brand worn by cycling superstars the world over, including the U.K.’s Mark Cavendish and America’s Greg LeMond.

Considered a “microsockery” by its owner, DeFeet thrives due to groundbreaking innovation. By making logo-friendly socks that were much more durable than competitors, DeFeet grew at an astonishing 50 percent a year through the 1990s. With this growth came jobs. DeFeet employs 40 workers in Hildebran and supports other industries in the area by buying locally: All yarn used by DeFeet is purchased within an 80-mile radius of its headquarters while all of its packaging is purchased within a 10 mile radius.

However, without international trade, DeFeet would not be nearly as successful. Approximately 25 percent of DeFeet’s sales are international and one-quarter of its jobs depend on trade. Furthermore, DeFeet’s international business saved it from a disastrous fire in 2001 and the sharp recession that followed the financial crisis of 2008. 

As the United States negotiates the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the European Union, new opportunities will arise for companies like DeFeet. Cycling is very popular in Europe, and DeFeet is widely sold in the U.K., Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland. 

However, DeFeet’s European distributors must pay a 12 percent tariff when they import socks from the United States, driving up costs. TTIP will level the playing field by removing such costs, boosting growth and job creation in the United States.  According to research by the Atlantic Council, the British Embassy in Washington, and the Bertelsmann Foundation, TTIP will create approximately 22,860 jobs in DeFeet’s home state of North Carolina alone.

Of particular interest to DeFeet is the German market. “Right now, the barriers in Germany are significant. However, it’s also one of the largest cycling markets in the world. If we could open up Germany, and if Germany became one of our largest markets, we would buy more machinery and provide more American jobs,” says Cooper. 

TTIP will surely act as a destination multiplier and help DeFeet expand its footprint to Germany. “We’re going to fight to open markets regardless of what the government does,” Cooper avows. “This is our future, this is our livelihood. But the faster U.S. negotiators can advance trade pacts like the TTIP, the sooner we can sell more product, and deeper product lines, into the EU.”  

Even still, many challenges remain. A few years ago, Shane received a phone call that DeFeet products were being sold in Taiwan. A counterfeiter had replicated DeFeet’s logo and distributed the fake goods throughout the country. To add insult to injury, DeFeet had to pay substantial legal fees just to close them down. By strengthening trademark protection and enforcement, U.S. policymakers can help prevent a repeat. To initiate new trade agreements that will forcefully protect U.S. intellectual property, the U.S. Congress must first renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). With TPA, the U.S. can begin new rounds of negotiations with countries to guarantee enhanced enforcement of trademark protection so DeFeet and other small businesses can rest assured that their products aren’t being illegally duplicated. 

 

 

Support TPA renewal at www.uschamber.com/tpa.