You probably didn’t think too much about the socks you’re wearing right now when you put them on this morning. Maybe you reached for a pair and you noticed that one of them had a mysterious, so you had to pick a different one. Maybe you’re a more detail-oriented type and spent a few seconds weighing which sock in your drawer sets off your outfit the best. But if you’re like most people, odds are you just blindly grabbed a pair and hope they match. Either way, you'll get on with your day. And unless you stepped in a puddle or somebody complimented them, I’m sure you haven’t thought about them at all since.
Starting from a blank slate meant that it took Goldberg and Heath longer than they might have to get Bombas up and running. “It took a year and a half to make one pair of socks,” explains Goldberg. On the other hand, the “long, iterative process” of designing it also gave them the opportunity to rethink some of the most basic ideas of sock construction, and in the process eliminate some of their most common annoyances. They eliminated seams from the toes for better comfort, changed the shape of the stitching in the heel so the sock cups it more closely without stretching, and a list of other innovations, resulting in a sock that feels precision-tuned for maximum coziness.
The long gestation period paid off in massive success in almost no time, as techie types got wind of a company that had engineered away everything that sucks about socks. Bombas launched with an Indiegogo campaign that ended up raising $145,000, or 949 percent of their original goal, followed by an appearance on Shark Tank that ended with an investment from FUBU founder Daymond John. In 2017 the company sold $47.2 million worth of socks. Stop the next young tech entrepreneur you see on the street and ask them to take off their Allbirds and you’ll most likely find a pair of Bombas.
“We got obsessed with the idea of helping out with this very specific problem,” Goldberg says. Following the lead of buy-one-give-one brands like Toms and Warby Parker, they decided that the best way to solve homeless shelters’ sock problem was to start a sock company. Essentially, as Goldberg describes it, Bombas is in the business of making socks to give away to homeless people, with a highly successful consumer-facing side hustle covering the costs.
Coming from a branding expert like Goldberg, that claim might seem like a self-serving publicity spiel except for the fact that he and Heath clearly take it seriously. Bombas recently donated its 10 millionth pair of socks, a milestone that Goldberg seems genuinely taken aback by. “Honestly we thought it would take 10 years to donate our millionth pair of socks, and we did that in two and a half years” he says. “Hitting 10 million so soon after...these numbers start to add up and start to feel so big.”
We got obsessed with the idea of helping out with this very specific problem.
Having already gone through the lengthy development process for their consumer sock, the brand’s founders dove into even more research, talking to both shelters and the people they serve. “The more that we talked with them and worked with them and listened, we learned that there was an opportunity to create something that was a little more thoughtful in design for the homeless community.”
“In the beginning we were donating the same socks that we were selling,” Goldberg says. “Lots of bright colors. What we found out was that if you're living on the street you probably want something that's a darker color to show less visible wear. You want to make sure that it's durable.”
The socks also come with an antimicrobial treatment to prolong wear without washing, and after all the time and effort they spent getting rid of that annoying toe seam, they ended up adding a seam back in to the donation sock to make them last longer. Far from being factory second castoffs, Bombas’s donation socks are just as nice as consumer Bombas, and on par with any of the pricey small-brand athletic-style socks in my drawer. In fact I have a feeling the trial pair I’ve been wearing around might outlast them all.
In the face of such bleak existential problems, there’s something comfortably tangible about giving socks to somebody who needs them. Socks are real. They’re comforting. Putting on fresh socks is one of the simplest and most satisfying pleasures of modern life. It’s nice to be able to share that with someone.
For the past couple weeks I’ve been carrying a couple pairs of Bombas’ donation socks in my bag when I leave the house and offering them to people who seem like they need them. The other night I got off the subway near my house and a guy who looked like he was homeless was sitting on a bench peeling off a pair of socks that were probably towards the end of their lifespan even before they’d been soaked in the downpour outside. Handing him a pair of fresh socks instead of a dollar–or more likely just walking past and thinking to myself how awful it must be to be in his situation–made me feel momentarily useful in a world that can often seem impossibly chaotic.
“Handing out a pair of socks to somebody also creates a moment to have a connection,” says Goldberg, “to hear somebody's story, to provide a little bit of dignity to a day where maybe a lot of people pass you by on the streets. If you take that experience and multiply it by the 10 million pairs of socks that we've donated in the US, those small moments of human kindness really start to add up to something meaningful. That's the whole reason this company exists.”