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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Farmers Hope Japanese Will Eat Up Socks Made of Corn

TOKYO -- The Chicago White Sox may have won baseball's World Series, but the corn socks are coming to Japan.

Biodegradable socks, made from corn-derived fiber and manufactured by U.S. hosiery makers, should make their worldwide debut on Japanese store shelves sometime next year, industry officials said Tuesday.

The officials said they developed the value-added product in an attempt to compete with low-cost textile manufacturers in China and other Asian countries.

The launch is backed by the U.S. Grains Council, which aims to bolster demand for U.S. corn by creating new markets, they said.

Participating hosiery manufacturers are Fox River Mills of Iowa, W.Y. Shugart & Sons of Alabama, and Harriss & Covington Hosiery Mills and Twin City Knitting, both of North Carolina.

"We are launching this in Japan because of Japan's environmental consciousness," said Jonathan Shugart, the president of W.Y. Shugart & Sons.

The corn-based socks will cost about 20 percent more than socks now available in Japan, he said. In Japan, a pair of socks made from cotton, wool or petroleum-based fibers such as nylon or polyester costs about 300 yen ($2.50).

The hosiery makers have been contracting with several Japanese retailers including department store operators to sell the socks, said Sumio Shibata of the State of North Carolina Japan Office.

"We hope the product will be on the shelves of Japanese stores next spring," Shibata said.

If the socks are successful in Japan, the companies will likely move to other markets such as the United States or Europe, he said.

The socks are made from corn-based Ingeo fiber produced by NatureWorks, a unit of U.S. agribusiness company Cargill.

"Ingeo socks have all the benefits of synthetic fibers while being earth friendly," said NatureWorks' Steve Davies.