Women's Full-Length and Knee-Length Hosiery, Except Socks

SIC 2251

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry category includes establishments primarily engaged in knitting, dyeing, or finishing women's and misses' full-length and knee-length hosiery (except socks), both seamless and full-fashion, and pantyhose. Those establishments primarily engaged in knitting, dyeing, or finishing women's and misses' knee-length socks and anklets can be found in SIC 2252: Hosiery, Not Elsewhere Classified. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing elastic (orthopedic) hosiery are classified in SIC 3842: Orthopedic, Prosthetic, and Surgical Appliances and Supplies.

Approximately 130 establishments were engaged in the production of women's full-length and knee-length hosiery in the late 2000s, 53 of which were in North Carolina. Alabama, New York, and California also had relatively large concentrations of businesses in this industry. About 6,500 people were employed in the industry, and a majority of businesses had more than 100 employees. North Carolina was second in terms of revenue, after Pennsylvania.

Most women's hosiery products are made of textured nylon and produced on small-diameter knitting machines. The processes involved in production of the goods covered by this category include: production of POY (partially oriented yarn) nylon filament by fiber producers, texturizing (or texturing) the nylon filament, knitting the filament nylon into the hosiery product, boarding the hosiery to obtain proper size and shape, and finishing the hosiery products and packaging them. Texturing of the nylon hosiery yarn is covered in SIC 2282: Yarn Texturizing, Throwing, Twisting, and Winding Mills.
The biggest event in the development of hosiery manufacturing was DuPont's invention of nylon, which was introduced to the public in 1938, replacing the baggier cotton or more expensive silk stockings. Finding a commercially palatable name for what was officially polyhexamethyleneadipamide took more than two years. The word "nylon," is a derivative of nylon stockings' widely touted "no-run" feature.

Sales growth in the women's hosiery industry slowed in the early 1990s and remained sluggish throughout the early 2000s. Sheer hosiery shipments declined from $1.57 billion in 1997 to $973 million in 2001. Shipments of pantyhose, including tights, declined from $1.13 billion in 1997 to $581 million in 2001. One outcome of this long-term decline was the liquidation of industry leader Ithaca Industries Inc. (Wilkesboro, North Carolina), which declared bankruptcy in 2000. Although the market for sheer pantyhose seemed to bottom out in 2007, when sales fell 1.9 percent to $644 million as compared to the 13.8 percent drop to $657 million experienced the previous year, sales for tights increased 15 percent to $125 million in 2007.

The market for sheer hosiery had declined because "the barelegged look" (wearing no stockings) became fashionable and because a trend toward more casual clothes encouraged women to wear slacks and socks instead of short dresses and nylon stockings. Manufacturers responded by conducting consumer research to help them launch new products and improve old ones to meet women's needs. For example, some lines of hosiery provided the barelegged look but covered imperfections in women's legs. Comfort, durability, body contouring, and overall high quality became increasingly important factors in hosiery. Nevertheless, demand for sheer hosiery and tights continued to drop, in part due to more casual dress codes.

Regardless, in the late 2000s some in the industry expressed optimism. For example, Sally Kay, president of The Hosiery Association, told USA Today, "The industry is not dead. Certain areas are flourishing, and others aren't. Forward-thinking companies are diversifying their product offerings." Such diversified products included fishnet hosiery, luxurious cashmere leggings, opaque tights, different colors and styles, and body shapers. In 2007, Hanes marketed a "Leg Benefits" line designed to improve circulation and infused with vitamin E to soften skin. In 2008, sales of women's hosiery as a whole rose 2.3 percent to reach $3.3 billion, according to Wall Street Journal. Kay attributed the increase to the rising popularity of opaque tights, which were gaining visibility on high-end fashion runways.

The leader in the industry in the late 2000s was Hanesbrands Inc. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Former parent company Sara Lee Corp. spun off Hanesbrands as an independent company in 2006. The company manufactured well-known hosiery brands including Barely There, Just My Size, Hanes, and L'eggs as well as higher-end lines for Donna Karan and DKNY. Between 2006 and 2009, Hanesbrands closed several plants and laid off 5,600 workers, or about 10 percent of its workforce. Sales in 2008 totaled $4.2 billion. Other leading companies included Glen Raven Mills Inc. of Burlington, North Carolina, and Americal Corp. of Henderson, North Carolina.

Trade negotiations during the 1990s opened up opportunities for a potential export market. In 1994 trade barriers were reduced in Japan, Canada, and Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A new World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995, and the Multifiber Arrangement (MFA)--which allowed importing countries to limit the flow of low-cost imports from developing countries--was replaced by the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), which required phasing out MFA quotas over a 10-year period. Because the United States had until 2005 to implement the ATC, the legislation's impact on the hosiery industry was still not completely realized. Beginning in the early 2000s, China also was considered an emerging growth market, due to its entry into the World Trade Organization.

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