They say necessity is the mother of invention. It was certainly the case for Sarah Tyree of Minnetonka, businesswoman and mom of sons AJ, 24, Sean, 23, and Hunter, 13. She noticed her kids’ feet always stayed cold, no matter how many layers of socks they wore playing in the snow. Her search for an effective snow-stopper was unsuccessful—so in 1997, when her oldest boys were youngsters, she turned to her sewing machine to fashion gaiters that would slide over boots and keep out the slush.
The gaiters worked well. Really well. Soon Tyree was rounding up fellow moms in the grocery store parking lot, asking them to test her “Alli-gators” with their own kids. Sewing had just been a hobby for Tyree, but over time, her footwear line, which she called HuggerWear, became a full-fledged business. She quit her full-time job to devote herself to HuggerWear, and currently has three staff members; they manufacture the items at their production facility in Hopkins. Tyree’s line of colorful fleece accessories is sold online and at local and national events. From hats to neck-warmers, long underwear to socks, HuggerWear has since gained a loyal following and is a favorite option for locally made winter accessories.
HuggerWear is also a go-to line for clients who live with blood circulation issues and conditions like neuropathy, diabetes and Raynaud’s Syndrome, where reduced blood flow causes tingling, numbness and discoloration in the extremities.
“The socks have gotten recognition from so many people who have ailments,” says Tyree. “With HuggerWear, they can get through cold winters, and even everyday situations, more comfortably.”
The key to HuggerWear is American-made Polartec fabric. The Massachusetts-based company began as Malden Mills, which designed warm layers for soldiers in both world wars and then created the first synthetic fleece in the 1990s. A specific type of Polartec fabric—Polartec Power Stretch—makes HuggerWear breathable, non-binding and easy to grip. Even during the summer, the socks provide support without overheating.
“It’s an incredible technology, the highest-quality fleece, and the lowest form of compression you can have,” says Tyree, adding, “This wonderful fabric really does help with circulation.”
Bill Wicks of Minnetonka first came across HuggerWear at the Minnesota State Fair, where Tyree has been vending since 1997. At the time, Wicks bought socks with the upcoming cold hunting season in mind. He accumulated additional pairs over the years before coming to appreciate the brand for its health benefits, too. With both neuropathy and diabetes, Wicks needs to pay close attention to his extremities; HuggerWear provides increased circulation to his feet and legs. “Most diabetic socks are loose: They don’t constrict, but they keep sliding down,” says Wicks. HuggerWear, on the other hand, stays put.
Wicks was a faithful HuggerWear client for years before Tyree moved to his neighborhood. When he saw her in her driveway, he pulled his car over and said, “Hey, I know you! You’re the lady who sells socks at the Fair!”
Wicks has handed down some sock love to his brother-in-law, Leo Sobieski of Bloomington. Sobieski had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and Wicks insisted he try a pair of the socks, because they were lightweight and breathable, without seams or strong elastic that would make them difficult to put on.
“[Bill] said these socks were really great, but I had a whole drawer full of socks,” says Sobieski. “They stay up. They never come down. They’re not tight around the leg. When I go to put on socks, they’re the ones I grab.” He’s since ditched the drawer of old socks in favor of his HuggerWear ones.
“I have not seen [Leo’s] feet out of them yet,” says Wicks.
“They’ve been a godsend.”
HuggerWear will celebrate 20 years at the Minnesota State Fair in 2016. Look for Tyree’s booth at the Grandstand. Learn more about HuggerWear at their website here.