One of the most valuable products offered by Bombas, a New York City-based sock brand, can’t be bought—only given.
Each time a consumer purchases a sock from Bombas, the brand gives away a specially designed model to a homeless shelter, completing the “one-for-one” chain and uniting consumption with charity.
Every donated sock is reinforced, anti-microbial and designed to face the challenges that the homeless are confronted with on a daily basis. But, that’s not to take away from the products you can actually buy at Bombas, which include sock varieties, from fluffy merino wool stockings to high-performance models for athletes.
David Heath and Randy Goldberg founded the company after working together at a previous job. As it turns out, a simple statistic was all it took to change their paths.
Sourcing Journal sat down with Heath and Goldberg to talk about their journey and the future of charity as a business model.
Sourcing Journal: What made you launch Bombas?
David Heath: We read a stat online one day that socks are the number one most requested clothing item in homeless shelters. Randy and I were both working at a media company at the time and never imagined ourselves going into the sock business, but it was an alarming stat we couldn’t let go of. We spent the next two years developing the perfect sock, taking out all of the uncomfortable features typically found in them, like an annoying toe seam or calf socks that never stay up. Comfort has continued to be the top priority in any product we make.
Randy Goldberg: Inspired by give-back brands that came before us, we developed a “one pair purchased equals one pair donated” model. In order to donate a lot of socks, we knew we’d have to sell a lot of socks, and the only way this was going to happen is if we created the best socks on the marketplace.
SJ: What are some of the challenges of starting a sock brand that may not have seemed obvious at the outset?
DH: When starting Bombas, neither of us came from an apparel or design background. There was certainly a learning curve in the beginning, but we actually found that helped us in the long run because we approached our design process from a consumer perspective. What did we dislike about wearing socks? How could they be more comfortable? Once we engineered the best fit and design, everything else started to fall in place.
SJ: Do you feel the “one-for-one” model can be viable for new companies that emerge in the coming years or do you see businesses moving away from that?
DH: Absolutely. People want to give back and help others, that’s not going to change. In fact, we believe that more and more customers are expecting more out of the products they buy and the companies they support, and therefore, there will be a need for both new brands as well as existing brands to be more thoughtful about how they help the greater community.
RG: While we started with our “One Pair Purchased = One Pair Donated” mission, it really has grown into so much more. Our customers constantly ask us how else they can help, so we recently launched a Giving Directory on our site. The interactive directory allows our customers to find organizations and shelters Bombas works with all across the country. It allows our customers to search by their location, so they can learn more about, volunteer with or donate to various partners in their local area.
SJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you’re doing?
RG: When we first launched, our goal was to donate 1 million pairs of socks within 10 years. We ended up doing that in just 2.5 years. The exponential growth Bombas has had in such a short amount of time is incredible and humbling, but seeing the impact we’ve been able to make in helping the community has definitely been the most rewarding.
DH: There’s a shelter we work with in North Carolina that said because of our continued sock donations to them, the money they would have spent buying socks for those staying in their shelter was instead used towards a scholarship to send one of their residents to college. It’s stories like those that really make me most proud of what we continue to do.
SJ: How did you come up with the idea behind the “greatest sock never sold” ad campaign for your charity?
RG: We have a pretty robust creative team internally, and also worked with external partners to develop this campaign. For our 10 millionth pair milestone, we wanted to tell the story of our donation socks. They’re the unsung hero of our brand, the whole reason that we continue to exist, and truly the greatest sock never sold.
DH: The socks we donate to our giving partners across the U.S. are different from the ones we sell online to our customers. Because the needs of the homeless community are different, we want to ensure the socks they’re wearing service those needs. We added an anti-microbial treatment to deter the growth of odor and fungus and created the socks in darker colors for less visible wear. We’re continually taking feedback from those wearing the socks and our giving partners to ensure we’re creating the best possible socks, no matter who’s wearing them.
SJ: Now that you’ve donated more than 15 million pairs of socks, what’s next?
RG: We just want to continue to make the best socks and donate as many more pairs as possible to those in need. We’re really excited for our new styles coming up, including expanding our performance offerings, as well as expanding our efforts within the community.