Sock City’s decline may reveal an unravelling in China’s economy

The hosiery business has been good to the entrepreneurs of Datang, who rode out the 2008 crisis and recovered. But now business is slowing again – and experts fear that may presage a hard landing for the whole country

The foolish man built his house upon sand; the wise man built his house on a rock. The ambitious entrepreneurs of Datang chose a sturdy nylon and wool foundation. "People always need socks," points out Xu Leile, whose company clothes the feet of the British and US armies, European hikers and pampered pet dogs.

Thanks to Xu and hundreds more like him, "Sock City" – north-west of Tie Town, east of Sweater Town – epitomised China's economic success story. The obscure settlement in eastern Zhejiang province became an export-driven boomtown, producing as much as a third of the world's sock supply and thriving even through the financial crisis in 2008 and the subsequent global recession.

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