As the one-for-one business model grows, Bombas hopes to help relieve the unanswered demand for socks that affects our country's homeless community. Bombas sets out to make a large impact on the world through the combined efforts of all who purchase their products.
Bombas exists to support the homeless community, and to bring awareness to an under-publicized problem in the United States. The company is on track to reach $50 million in sales for 2017. Their success has allowed them to donate over 4 million pairs of socks to its 1,000 partner shelters and organizations. I sat down with David Heath, co-founder and CEO of Bombas to find out more.
LM: Let's start by giving me a snapshot of you and the company.
DH: Bombas is an apparel e-commerce company, focused on making the most comfortable socks, while giving back to the homeless community. My co-founders and I launched the company in 2013 - prior to that I worked in sales and business development, and founded a few other companies as well.
LM: Tell me about your origin story. Why you? Why did you start this company?
DH: A few years ago, I was working at a media startup when I came across a quote that said, "Socks are the #1 most requested clothing items in homeless shelters." It really stuck with me - and that was the moment that changed it all.
LM: Where did this all begin for you?
DH: I shared the quote with my good friend (and then colleague) Randy Goldberg, and we came up with the idea for Bombas together. This was in 2011, when the give-back business model was growing, so we were inspired to create a sock company where we donated a pair of socks for every pair we sold. We knew in order to donate a lot of socks and create a scalable solution, we'd have to sell a lot of socks. And to do that, we'd have to create a product people loved - something that was better than anything else on the market. So, we spent two years on research and development to create the most comfortable socks available, and officially launched the brand in late 2013.
In the beginning, we'd not only test our consumer product by giving socks out to our family and friends, but we'd also walk around Manhattan and hand out socks to those we encountered living on the streets. One of the most memorable moments still to this day, is when I met a homeless Veteran on a corner near my apartment. He asked me for money, and when I told him that I didn't have any and instead offered him a pair of our socks, the Veteran teared up and replied, "How did you know!?," as he removed his shoes to show one foot wrapped in a plastic bag, and the other in a bandana. It was that interaction that solidified why we were launching Bombas and showed there was a real need for what we were doing.
LM: What is your favorite part about starting this company?
DH: That's a hard one - there is so much I love about it. But to narrow it down, I'd say the people and culture we've cultivated and the impact we're able to make on the community. Every time we volunteer and interact with the community we serve, we are more and more inspired to succeed.
LM: How did you think of the concept and what/who was your inspiration?
DH: I had never thought about socks like that before - to me they were always an afterthought, so it was shocking to learn that for some people they were considered a luxury. As soon as I heard it, I wanted to do something about it. After coming up with the idea and business model, we spent over two years on research and development, to improve upon everything about the commoditized sock product - from the toe seam and the materials used, to arch support and the way the socks wore and washed. The result was the most comfortable socks in the history of feet. To date, we've continued to innovate on product, and at the same time, we've also continued to evolve the way we support and work with the homeless community. We've been able to donate more than four million pairs of socks, while also getting involved in our own community first hand- which brings it all back to the quote that started it all.
LM: Talk to me about your mission and giving back to the community.
DH: To date, Bombas has donated more than 4 million pairs of socks. We work with over 1,000 giving partners across the country, with partners in every state and major city. The socks we donate were designed in partnership with some of our Giving Partners to specifically meet the needs of the homeless community. The socks are made with darker colors to show less visible wear, include reinforced seams for greater durability and longer lifespan, and boast an anti-microbial treatment, to prevent the growth of odor and fungus even if the socks are not washed as frequently.
Giving is also engrained in our company culture. To ensure every person on the team is able to make that same connections we were able to make in the beginning, every new employee is given a pack of our donation socks to hand out on their commute to and from work during their first week. Additionally, the entire team at Bombas volunteers regularly at local shelters or charities to hand out socks and contribute to onsite programming. It's these personal experiences that continue to fuel our connection and passion for what we do, remind us of the reason we started the company in the first place and help us to better serve the homeless community.
LM: Talk to us a little bit about why you think Bombas has been so successful?
DH: I think it's a combination of a really great product, a genuine mission to help those in need, and an incredible team of passionate employees.
People always ask us what drives the business - the mission or the product, and the truth is, one couldn't exist without the other. Bombas was founded because of the mission, but in order to successfully try to solve the problem we identified, we needed to create an amazing product. The two go hand-in-hand, and that combination, coupled with the passion and drive of our team, and a little bit of luck and timing have been the contributing factors of our success.
LM: Discuss the aesthetic/branding of the company.
DH: Bombas is engineered comfort to provide support for the sport of life. Our brand is thoughtful, encouraging, fun and inclusive.
LM: How can emerging brands in the space be successful?
DH: Find something you're really passionate about and do it well. Especially early on, it's easy to get distracted and excited about a lot of different ideas, but it's important to stay focused to succeed.
Work hard and most importantly, build a team around you that shares your same values and goals. Recognize your areas of weakness, ask for help and hire people who are smarter than you are. You're only as good as the team you surround yourself with. Our leadership believes in transparency and instills a high-level of trust in all employees.
LM: What is your take on the future of Bombas? What's next?
DH: We will continue to innovate on product and introduce socks that look great, feel great and help support our customers in their everyday lives.
Additionally, we're on track to reach our 5 millionth pair of socks donated by the end of 2017. At the same time, we will continue our commitment to not only getting socks on the feet of those in need, but also to bridging the gap in our community and spreading awareness around the issue of homelessness. Earlier this year, we launched our Community Program, which aims to engage other companies with giving back to their communities first hand - and we look forward to further expanding the program to make an even bigger impact.
LM: What other brands are you currently into that give back to the community?
DH: It's a really interesting time, where businesses big and small are getting involved in giving back to the community in a variety of ways - whether it is through giving product or financial support, volunteering or supporting larger causes and advocacy groups. Brands are taking a stand on issues, and consumers are expecting more out of the brands they shop than simply providing a great product. From Everlane's stance on transparency, to Patagonia's advocacy for preservation and more small brands launching with a give-back mission built in, it's inspiring to see the trend of giving in the DNA of so many companies.
Inspiring, it is. We can't wait to see what is in store for the future of Bombas.