On a good day, each machine in the CHUP socks factory in Nagano, Japan makes 30 pair of socks. On a less-good day—and there are less-good days, as the machines CHUP deploys to create their uniquely kaleidoscopic socks are somewhere between “somewhat old and somewhat persnickety” and “very old and very persnickety”—you’re looking at maybe 10 pair.
But the commitment to the method of creation is worth it, as CHUP’s socks are considered by many (including this particular shoe- and sock-obsessed writer) to be among the best, most unique, and most comfortable in the world. They’re not cheap—coming in usually around $30/pair—but when you understand the work that goes into them, it starts to make more sense. And their comfort and unique designs speaks for themselves.
Standard & Strange owner and Stitchdown chum Neil Berrett took a swing through the CHUP socks factory a few months back on one of his frequent jealousy-inducing visits to Japan, took some photos of the operation, and laid out how it all works. (So, big thanks to Neil and S&S, whose CHUP selection can be seen right here).
It all starts, somewhat obviously, with yarn. Most CHUP socks are crafted from a cotton/acrylic blend that CHUP says is “particularly suited to socks”—the acrylic softens up the sock, whereas a 100% cotton version would make the socks rougher, and also lends it significant durability. Wool yarn is also used at times, a fine version of which keeps the yarn from shrinking when washed.
There are shelves upon shelves of yarns in endless colors in the factory—CHUP’s dazzling and impressively complicated designs are all inspired by patterns that emerged from indigenous cultures throughout the world, and portraying those designs in the vibrant range of colors they deserve to be portrayed is one of the brand’s calling cards.
The factory floor. Because of the age and persnicketiness of the machines, the entire place is as clean as a NASA workshop.
One of CHUP’s Jacquard knitting machines, which CHUP explains as being “sort of like a circular sewing machine.” The white in the middle is the sock-to-be, which gradually falls downward as it is knit at its top edge.
Various color yarns being fed into a knitting loom.
And here’s a top view—this sock is just getting started.
The oldest machine in the CHUP factory, a tubular knitting loom. CHUP says they run this loom very slowly “to prevent any breakdowns, as there are no more parts to repair it,” which I would say is pretty sound reasoning.
Here it is from another angle—it’s got an almost steampunk feel to it.
After CHUP socks come out of the knitting machines, they make their way to the Rosso Toe machine. The Rosso method results in a very clean closure, and the machine must be operated by a craftsperson to ensure the work is completed properly.
Other CHUP socks are closed by the “hand-linking” method, in which “a craftsperson matches every single stitch that is sewn together to close the toe of the sock.” Hand-linking is incredibly laborious and time consuming, but results in a sock with almost no leftover material at the toe—which is especially important in fine-gauge socks, aka dress socks made from very thin yarn.
The Rosso machine can’t quite match hand-linking’s precision, but is more productive and especially effective for thicker-gauge socks, which make up the bulk of CHUP’s offerings.
Another view of the Rosso Toe machine.
Most Chup socks are created through a Jacquard knitting process, which allows CHUP to incorporate various colors of thread to create their trademark patterns. If you turn the socks inside out, they don’t look like they do on the outside—and stray threads sometimes remain. At the end of the line, CHUP craftspeople snip too-long threads one by one, and vacuum them away.
And then, the end result: