Of the many societies I joined while at university, there was one that stood out: the Freestyle Handball society. “Freestyle” because there were, quite literally, few restrictions on the moves or techniques that competitors could employ; “Handball” because you used your palms. Sitting somewhere on the spectrum between a game of Fives and Volleyball, it involved a significant amount more sparkling wine and a little less formality.
The Freestyle Handball games we played were about showing flare and maintaining the good spirit of competition. Illustrious players in the game’s history (okay, five year history...) were often the ones that didn’t always finish first. We played in a world where poor etiquette was frowned upon and playing with sportsmanship was applauded. Showing flare and entering into the competition with the right “spirit” was the only aim of the game.
"Illustrious players in the game’s history (okay, five year history...) were often the ones that didn’t always finish first. We played in a world where poor etiquette was frowned upon and playing with sportsmanship was applauded."
We competed amongst ourselves and the attire was flamboyant, self deprecating and fun. We wore a dinner jacket on our top half over our official team kit: a white shirt from Tesco’s “Back to School” range, with our emblem lovingly etched onto the left breast pocket with a Sharpie. On the bottom half, we wore sports shorts, long socks and running shoes.
Each new member was presented ceremoniously with a shirt prior to their first game, with the cheer and camaraderie you’d expect to see more commonly in the dressing room following a World Cup final victory, than in the kitchen of a student house. Drinking sparkling wine like it was going out of fashion, stumbling from bar to bar and playing on College lawns and in quads as we went, of all the evenings I spent at Durham, these were among the most memorable.
Our story continues in a small rural village in the Midlands in July 2018. Feeling creative following the release and success of our Orient & Fortune Town Sock, I returned to our manufacturer for the next challenge: making the finest sporting sock available. Inspired by the socks we’d worn in Durham back in 2014, I wanted to make a similar pair: bright colours, vibrant stripes, cushioned feet and hard wearing. I set to work.
Yarns used in sock production
Following a wander around the factory, we sat down in the office with the manager and agreed our specification. The sock was to be knee high with a cushioned sole. It was to have stripes and ribs, to fit comfortably against your leg. It should be of the highest quality, and made to last. Most importantly, it was going to be made in Britain and just like the Freestyle Handball variety I remembered so well from a few years earlier.
A cylinder machine used to make socks
Specification on paper and prototype colourways agreed, we received the first samples a few months later. They looked great, and we were happy to approve. But, as we all know, some things are never straightforward!
Fast forward a few months and we were still waiting for the order to arrive: production times ran on, phone calls weren’t answered, Christmas was fast approaching and something was adrift. I did manage to get hold of the production manager at one point – he explained they were extremely busy, and said he wished they’d not taken the order on in the first place. Finishing up the call, I left with about as much confidence as you’d have leaving a fox in charge of the keys to a chicken coop.
"We rejected the batch, sent the socks back in the same DPD van they had arrived in, and started back at square one. Christmas 2018: the Christmas for our company that never was."
When the socks did finally arrive, I’d rarely felt more disappointed. It was now December, the Christmas season was upon us and we had a product we couldn’t, in good faith, sell to our loyal fans. The joins between different stripe colours were unsightly and nothing like the prototypes. It looked as if something had gone wrong in production, but no one had thought to highlight it. I tried a pair on; within seconds a hole appeared. When I tried to speak to our manufacturer about the issue and see how it could be rectified, they didn’t want to know. We rejected the batch, sent the socks back in the same DPD van they had arrived in, and started back at square one. Christmas 2018: the Christmas for our company that never was.
Our new socks (left) versus the rejected batch (right)
If you would like to see the batch we rejected, I suggest you head to eBay. They’re being sold by our old manufacturer and they’re using our packaging – we haven’t approved its use and, worst of all, we certainly don’t approve of the quality! The moral of the story is, be cautious. If you want the quality and attention to detail that goes into any O&F Sporting product, then please buy from one of our outlets, or our online store. Be wary of imitations.
"Henry Royce put it in characteristically good terms: “small things make perfection, but perfection is no small thing”."
O&F Sporting is, for me, always about quality first and foremost. I’m driven by making sure our products are perfect and that we give our customers everything they deserve. Henry Royce put it in characteristically good terms: “small things make perfection, but perfection is no small thing”. I’m pleased we have a new sock manufacturer now who is just as exacting with their standards as we are with ours. Perfection takes time, and there’s trial and error along the way.
The final product
As for our Luxury Sporting Socks, I’m pretty sure we’ve got there. It’s been a long process and we’re not here to blow our own trumpet, but we think they’re pretty much perfect! Made with the finest yarns, woven using a specific needle gauge, ribbed for comfort and finished with our signature cushion foot. They’re manufactured in Britain and support domestic communities. The factory we now use is clean, tidy and modern and our manufacturer takes time to listen to our requests, playing the game of production with the same flare, enthusiasm and etiquette that we embrace here at O&F.
If I was still living back in my carefree days at Durham in 2014, I’d be happy to welcome any one of the crew at our new factory onto the Freestyle Handball team. We’d be wearing their socks on our feet: that’s as good a test as any.
The Luxury Sporting Sock, by O&F Sporting. Made in Britain. Buy online at www.oandfsporting.com/collections/socks or at selected stockists.