Jim Throneburg made socks. Innovative socks. “Activity-specific” padded socks. THORLO, his family-owned sock manufacturing company based in Statesville, North Carolina, is known for its innovative padded socks for various activities such as running, hiking, walking, skiing, and more.
Throneburg’s innovation didn’t come from a flash of genius but from a personal experience. In 1953, Throneburg founded THORLO after seeing his father suffer from foot pain caused by poor-quality socks. He started selling socks out of the trunk of his car. As the quality of the socks gained recognition, the company began to expand. In the 1960s, the product line expanded to include socks for hiking and mountaineering, and in the 1970s, THORLO developed a specialized padding system that could be customized for different activities.
In the late 1970s, Throneburg realized that as the function of shoes changed, so should the design of the socks that complemented them. Drawing from his experience at a weight-loss clinic where he needed thicker-soled socks, he transformed Throneburg Hosiery Mill from a commodity business into an innovative sock manufacturer that became THORLO. He invested in new designs, yarns, and technology that he had perfected, making padded socks for the military. The company has since created dozens of sport-specific sock varieties.
THORLO’s R&D happens where the foot meets the sock and the shoe, addressing everyday problems ordinary people face. Throneburg developed a ladies’ rolltop sock for golf and tennis after a woman golfer complained about her socks slipping down. When a man with a rare foot condition found relief from THORLO’s socks and asked if Throneburg could make socks for his young daughters, Throneburg forwarded the request to product development.
Throneburg held more than 25 patents in the United States and internationally, and he was one of the most prolific inventors in the sock, insole, and shoe industries. His success demonstrated that innovation does not require a flashy tech startup or a billion-dollar budget.
Idea for Impact: Innovation could happen anywhere and at any time. It was not just about new products or cutting-edge technologies but about seeing things differently and understanding customers’wants and needs.