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  • Ian McClellan

Week 18: I will change my socks.

Updated: Jul 28, 2020


Sometimes, it is the things that people do not see that tend to be neglected.


I guess this is the world that we live in, and our nature as social humans. The markers of success or status are often in what can be displayed. A nicely manicured lawn at the front, a battered old shed full of junk at the back. Posh china cups for the guests, chipped mugs for the family. The drawer or the cupboard that no-one sees, and contains loose batteries, store receipts from two years ago, a novelty drinks coaster and inexplicably a pencil sharpener.



We show people our best face.


However, it is often the things that the many do not see that empower us the most. An act of kindness shared with a stranger. A internal moment of mental resolve that you did not think you had. Being confided in by a friend. It is these moments, that we often swell with pride, and feel our feet lift two inches from the ground. These are invisible markers of self-worth, the deep nourishing experiences and feelings that we often keep to ourselves, but can make us feel taller, make our eyes shine brighter, and can be the difference between a good day and a bad day.


This is a serious topic, at a serious time in the world. We are going to learn a lot about ourselves in the coming weeks and months. Once the waves of new information and processing of new temporary routines in our lives begins to settle, it might be that solitude is going to give our minds the time to unwind and begin to process unprocessed thoughts. It will take strength and kindness to each other, as isolation could overflow into loneliness, but perhaps there will be new stimulus that come from staring out of the window a little bit more.


I hope that it will give me time to reflect, and use them to think about the things that I am grateful for in my life, and that are really important to me.


It feels like during serious times, for my own self-care, we should double-down on positivity, and use it as a form of meditation or distraction from all the change that we are experiencing. We should all really lean into the things that make us happy right now, and practice them regularly as a way of controlling our lives during the uncontrollable times.


In our family, before we can settle, a big task this week was to do some physical decluttering of the house, in order for us to work remotely and do so without tripping over coats, or working at a desk that was strewn with papers and toys.


And as with all decluttering, it feels like you move one piece of paper, then you blink, and suddenly you are moving entire coat racks, rugs, books, and eventually large pieces of furniture around the house. You try to find room in a drawer for a few extra t-shirts, and before you know it you have tried on your entire wardrobe and have ten bags of garments to take to charity or to the clothes recycling points. I'm surprised we didn't end up re-decorating the whole house, although I did get a strange desire to re-paint the upstairs bathroom. These are strange times for the mind.


It was during this declutter, I found something that was a nice, light hearted inspiration for a planetwise change this week. I stumbled upon something that should be important to me, that I have neglected for a long time. Something that has always been in my life, but I haven't really given any thought to them for a long time. Something I wear every day, but I can't remember the last time I thought about them aside from the frustration that I have so many pairs with holes in.


It is socks.


I have just never really thought about the concept of owning good socks, or even matching socks. I have habitually worn boots for years, and so they have never really been visible, and I have long reached a certain stage in my life, where frankly not many people really have an opinion about my socks.


But in terms of something that is hidden, and neglected, I think paying more attention to my socks could give a new source of joy. It is a bit flippant, but with all the sadness we are reading in the world, and with the necessary restrictions on our social interactions, being isolated or working from home in a really good pair of socks, might just be the tonic that I need. Something we can do for ourselves, something that can be often neglected. For this week's change, I am therefore going to change my socks.


By this, I mean find a way of making a small change to the socks that I wear, to be more conscious of their provenance. I have a lot of socks that are beyond my own abilities to darn or repair, and that I had begun to collect for the bin - those that show an indecent amount of toe, or in some cases whole foot. I have pairs that have been lurking in a drawer for several years, and ignored out of laziness. I also didn't think you could recycle socks, mainly due to the fact that my one-dimensional mind simply considered that no-one would want to wear my smelly old socks.


However, with a small amount of online research, it does appear that there are lots of options for recycling unwearable socks, and many ways that organisations and even retailers are happy to accept and recycle garments that would otherwise be sent to landfill. They can be turned into rags for example, or turned into stuffing for pillows or other products. It is best to check how and where to do this, as it might not be through traditional recycling points, but it does seem quite common, and even retailers such as H&M will take a wide range of used clothing at a point in their life cycle that was beyond what I thought was feasible.


If you create bags of just unwearable garments, then charity shops may take them, to sell on and generate funds by weight. It was a really exciting prospect to discover this, and discover that although my old socks might not be worn again, they will somehow be given a second chance or what some might argue is a much better life than being on my gnarly old feet.


On that note, there are also creative uses for old socks, and websites available that can give hints. These range from the advanced options, such as upcycling them yourself and learning a new skills at the same time with the aid a sewing machine, through to simple ways that can create a new use for something that might have seemed to be at the end of its life. Suggestions such as rags or pet toys, along with additional loft insulation, draught excluders, are all simple ways of creating new from old. For those in the UK, you can check out sites such as Love Your Clothes, which has a whole section dedicated to life hacks with old socks (https://www.loveyourclothes.org.uk/) or simply search for 'what I can do with my old socks'.


The next stage in the process to make this a permanent change, given that I now only have about three pairs left intact, is to find a way to replace my old socks with new, in a way that is considerate to the planet. If you put aside the option to no longer wear socks, which is valid but not a practical or achievable step for me right now, then the main theme is once more on the sourcing of the materials, and the manufacturing process.


In other words, I found myself asking the same questions as before - what is it made from, and how was it made.


In terms of what socks are made from, this appears in some ways more straightforward than I have had to consider before. Socks are more elegant or more simple, in that they are made of a lesser variety of materials - in most case just one major material. Manufacturing also, is simpler in many ways than a complex product such as shoes as producers are sourcing less raw materials from less places. With all this, and given that I am not an expert in socks, it feels like looking more into the material, than the manufacturing process is a good place to start.


It seems that the material also drive the manufacturing process, and as it is virtually impossible to produce anything without using some amount of energy and natural resources, it feels like the path to a planetwise choice, is to find the best and most sustainable sock material, and then investigate sock brands or producers that manufacture in a kind way.


For socks, this seems to be brands that endeavour to be carbon neutral in the production process, and to minimise resources such as water, which is a big part of clothing production. This information is usually available on a brand's website, and usually if a brand has a page that is marked as 'our story' or 'our commitments', they will have a policy or a ethos for sustainable manufacturing. Checking that chemicals are not used, that dyes are non-toxic, and that working conditions are respected can usually also be checked in this way.


If a brand is doing these things, then it is considered a point of difference, and so they should and will be proud to inform customers about it on their website or other marketing materials. Where possible, I have also seen brands use ways of contributing to carbon schemes as a way of offsetting emissions. This seems like a really credible thing to do, as it funds organisations that are experts in considering how to remove carbon from the atmosphere in many ways, such as planting trees but also finding other ways such as reduction of landfill and investing in renewable energies.


In terms of materials, there are socks that are starting to be produced with contributions from recycled materials, such as fishing nets and waste materials, but for me the most appealing argument was always made through natural materials. Socks made from natural materials, means materials like wool, hemp, cotton and bamboo. These can all be produced in kind ways, such as being free from pesticides and intensive farming techniques, and if sourced in a responsible way, seems from my research to be the best choice.


There are many arguments for and against each of these natural materials, and there are probably those who will agree or disagree with any choice of natural product. For me, I have chosen bamboo, mainly due to how it seems to grow and be grown. From what I have been able to research, it is fast growing, it appears to need less irrigation, and it regenerates from its own roots and therefore does not need replanting each year. Therefore, if you consider it against other choices of manufactured materials for socks, it tips the balance for me not necessarily only based on it being some kind of miracle material that has zero impact on the planet, but because it seems to be the best of the options based on a variety of factors. I will still need to make sure it is grown well, that pesticides are not used, that it is processed with a consideration to the planet, and that these factors are transparent.


I'm excited to dip my toe into sock purchasing, if you pardon the pun. I have already found some really great products to consider, and I think that finding a positive brand, with some great designs, is a good place to start and a fresh start, if you pardon that pun too. I have never had socks that in some way are an expression, or that I look at and feel a positive emotion other than that my feet are warm, and I'm looking forward to finding some really exciting designs that stir other emotions as a start to my new collection.


I think that during the next weeks and perhaps months, wearing some cool socks will be something that can make me feel good as I work alone or on video calls, that I know but no-one else does.


Of all the brands that I have been able to research, the one that stands out for me right now is Incredible Socks (https://myincrediblesocks.com/). They feel really passionate about socks, which is what I need to truly feel like I have made a positive change. Their socks also bring together all the things that I identified as important to me in the process of selecting planetwise socks. The material, the sourcing, and the production process, have all considered the planet, and the thought that has gone into the sock design are so different to what I would usually buy, that I feel brave and proud that I've made the change. To go from wearing black or dark grey, to having socks in my collection that have personalities and names such as Banana-rama or Road Trippin, is just the kind of fun that I need right now. I've ordered my first box, and I'm excited to give my feet a bit of love.


If this change also gives me a lift in the morning, then maybe it will give someone else an idea for a lift too. We are all connected, and through our choices, and especially currently through our kindness and positivity, we can make individual and collective change.

As for the old socks, we chose on this occasion to get creative with these, with the use of just a staple gun and a ladder. They have a new life, lining the roof of our old shed. Insulation with a twist. Dancing on the ceiling. Leo and I made a start, and it might take a while to complete this project.


Step forward old socks, and live again.

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