5 interesting facts about Swan Socks, which used to be worn by Singapore's students and soldiers

Women working at the Swan Socks factory in October 1964.
Women working at the Swan Socks factory in October 1964. PHOTO: THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Swan Socks was a major socks factory that opened in the now-defunct Jalan Tukang area in Jurong in 1964.

A group of former workers, who forged close friendships while working at the facility in its early years, still meet regularly every year to reminisce about old times.

Here are some interesting facts about the Swan brand socks that Singaporeans wore as schoolchildren.

1. They started in Japan

The history of Swan Socks dates back to the 1900s, when Ikeo Socks Co. Ltd was founded in Osaka and started manufacturing cotton socks for men and women under the brand "Swan".

The company prided itself on turning out products of the highest quality while keeping prices low, and managed to thrive even after two world wars. It upheld a good reputation not only at home, but abroad in East Asia, Europe and South America.

It switched from producing cotton to nylon socks - which were made of synthetic fibre and considered revolutionary - in the mid-1950s. The socks entered the Singapore market in 1957, and immediately saw increased demand.

2. Singapore factory set up under Pioneer Industries Scheme


A woman worker handling a new pair of socks fresh off the production line. PHOTO: ST FILE 

Talks to set up a factory in Singapore began as early as 1959 with the enactment of Singapore's Pioneer Industries Scheme. It was awarded a pioneer certificate in August 1963 and registered under the limited company name Swan Socks Manufacturing Co. (Malaysia) Ltd.

The new company - a joint venture among Singapore's Siakson Trading Co and three Japanese firms including Ikeo Stocks Co. - had an authorised capital of $5 million.

Reports then said the factory would be equipped with the latest automatic socks-making machines from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe, as well as up-to-date yarn and fabric-dyeing facilities.

3. Target production of 3.5 million dozen pairs of socks a year


Women workers operating winder machines in the factory. PHOTO: ST FILE 

Then-finance minister Goh Keng Swee, who broke ground on the factory on June 6, 1964, officially opened it on Oct 26 that same year.

The factory was expected to produce over 3.5 million dozen pairs of socks a year, with about one-third of its annual output supplying the Malaysian market. The rest would be exported to Europe, the US and the Middle East.

It initially employed 70 workers, with the workforce said to be increased to 500 after three to four years.

4. It supplied socks to the Singapore Armed Forces

Swan Socks switched to producing army socks to survive when a depressed international market caused by the oil crisis of the early 1970s forced several textile industries in Singapore to slow down production.

Swan Socks also became a wholly Singapore-owned company in 1983.

But it gradually reduced production. By 1988, it had turned to making better-designed fashion socks to differentiate itself from its competitors. It closed down shortly after.

5. DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam talks about the socks in 2015 Budget speech

Mr Tharman, who was then finance minister, fondly reminisced about the brand: "The older amongst us will remember the Swan brand socks we wore as schoolchildren - tearing off the Swan label that was pasted on each new pair of white school socks."

He also revealed that the Swan Socks factory was the first to offer significant employment for women.

Jalan Tukang, which is now home to the Tukang Innovation Park, houses a range of companies engaged in new technologies.