REDDING, Calif. - Bernadette Butz, an avid gardener, would wear flip-flops or clogs when she was out planting seeds or pulling weeds.
By early summer, Butz's feet would be a dry, cracking mess. Her heels would look like jerky. Worse, dirt would accumulate in the cracks of her feet until she couldn't stand it anymore.
Butz, a 66-year-old psychotherapist in Redding, Calif., tried foot files, pumice stones, lotions and creams. She even read an article that recommended putting plastic bags over her feet.
Butz started researching remedies, but she soon discovered that the fix for cracked, dry feet was as elusive as the cure for the common cold.
Eventually, Butz found that coating her socks with latex seemed to work. Problem was, the glue she used to stick the latex to her socks also glued her feet to the shoes.
"The coating idea was correct. I just needed the right coating," Butz says on her website.
Butz's years of research finally led her to a company called DipTech Systems Inc. in Kent, Ohio, and to Bill Howe, the firm's vice president of molding and coating services.
With Howe's help, Butz has created SoleMates (mysolematessocks.com), culminating more than five years of research and development.
The socks -- made of nylon, spandex, Lycra and polyester -- are coated with the organic compound nitrile and sell for $19.95.
Butz has spent about $50,000 on her invention and has about 10,000 pairs of socks to show for it.
"I have invested without a whole lot of return coming back, but my plan is to do a nationwide infomercial," Butz says, estimating its production costs at $250,000 to $500,000.
But she's unfazed. SoleMates protect the skin from dirt while keeping her feet moist, Butz says, and she's convinced they will find a market.
"I am a therapist, but I began as a social worker, so I have always wanted to help people and this product does," Butz says.
For Howe, Butz's product was simple enough that it could be produced quickly at a reasonable cost. He ran off about 10 prototypes before Butz found a sock she felt would work.
"Literally, it was about a three-day effort we undertook in our dip room," Howe said.
Butz tried to get her socks manufactured in the United States, but ultimately had to turn to China.
"I started off with glove manufacturers, but because the idea was so radical, they wouldn't even consider it," Butz said. "Then I went to sock manufacturers and it was the same deal."
Therefore, SoleMates are made in Shanghi, China, by Jinzou Trading Co. Howe introduced Butz to Louis Low of Jinzou. "They had done a lot of work together," Butz said.
Howe said Butz's decision to turn to China came down to costs.
"With the nature of production today, most of the products that are dip molds or dip coated in the United States are medical products because they can demand a high profit margin," Howe said.