The founders of Bombas sought to create a company that would solve one of the biggest problems homeless people face — a need for socks.
Cofounder David Heath learned that socks are the most requested item at homeless shelters, but the least donated. Most people donate their old clothing and shelters don’t usually take used socks.
At first Heath just bought packs of socks and handed out pairs to the homeless people he saw on the streets of New York City. But he quickly realized just how much demand there was.
“I encountered a homeless veteran who had a sign out saying anything will do. I walked up and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t have any money, but I have a pair of socks for you,’” Heath recalled. “He said ‘This is exactly what I needed. How did you know?’”
Heath remembers watching the man take off his shoes and seeing that one foot was wrapped in a bandana and the other was wrapped in a plastic bag.
“Seeing that — just how much I could imagine being in that situation and what having a nice clean pair of socks at that moment would do — I’ll never shake that moment,” he said.
Heath realized there was a bigger opportunity here. He teamed up with Randy Goldberg to create an apparel company that would follow the buy-one, give-one model — for every pair of socks a customer purchased, a pair of socks would be donated to a homeless person.
Bombas plans to use this model as it expands its product line to other items.
“You kind of take your socks for granted. They’re an afterthought in the design and apparel world,” Goldberg said. “We just got obsessed with this idea that we could help solve a problem through starting a business.”
The donated socks have an antimicrobial coating and reinforced seams for better wear. Already more than 10 million pairs of socks have been donated.
Heath and Goldberg also focused on creating the perfect pair of socks for consumers. The socks, which cost about $12 a pair, are made of high-quality cotton and wool, offer support for the middle of your foot, are designed not to sag or slip off and don’t have an uncomfortable seam across the toe.
Bombas got its first big break when it was featured on the reality show Shark Tank in 2014. Daymond John, the CEO of fashion brand FUBU, decided to partner with the company. Both Heath and Goldberg credit that appearance with helping them grow their business.
Heath acknowledged that no one grows up dreaming about creating the perfect sock or building a “sock empire.” But he said his ultimate goal is to “develop relationships with people as a result of the work.”
It’s something he’s done with a man named Charlie, who has been homeless for about two years.
“One day I just walked over to him, offered him a pair of socks and introduced myself,” Heath said. “Seeing him every day, I started to develop a little bit more rapport and comfort on both sides.”
Their relationship evolved and eventually they began to grab lunch together.
When Heath realized Charlie liked books, he bought him a Kindle and a solar charger that he reloads every couple of weeks. Charlie, an avid reader, no longer has to walk 50 blocks uptown to borrow books from a shelter on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and lug them back downtown.
“It’s not just providing food. It’s not just providing money,” Heath said. “This is finding something that’s important to him, something that he enjoys and providing, you know, more.”