Photo from Bombas, where they donate a pair of socks with each pair purchased.
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What Do Homeless Shelters Request Most? Socks.

November 29, 2017

A comfortable pair of socks might not seem like a luxury, but it could change a homeless person’s life. “You’re supposed to change socks every day,” a member of Portland’s homeless community told a reporter for The Oregonian. “That is hard, hard, hard.”

Socks are the most requested item at homeless shelters. They’re also among the things in shortest supply. Unlike most items in our wardrobe, we tend to wear our socks until they’re beyond repair, at which point they’re of no use to anyone.

That simple fact was the driving force behind Bombas, the sock company that Randy Goldberg and David Heath founded in 2013. Built around the “buy one, give one” principle, Bombas donates a pair of socks for every pair it sells—to the tune of more than 4 million pairs given away so far.

The impact of a fresh, clean pair of socks can’t be overstated. According to UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, the homeless walk an average of 10 miles daily. Exposure to the elements can lead to infections and other health issues.

Balancing philanthropy with market-leading quality at a competitive price is key to Bombas’ success. “Getting the product right was everything for us,” Goldberg explains. “There’s not really room for compromise.”

He’s talking about two distinct consumers here—and this is where the company’s true innovation comes in.

First, Bombas spent two years creating the perfect athleisure sock for men, women, and kids. Made from extra-long staple cotton that keeps feet warm and dry, Bombas socks are defined by their details: Y-shaped heel stitching, blister tabs, and hand-linked toe seams.

Then, for the donation socks, Bombas used the same material but enhanced the design for the extensive use and hygienic concerns the recipients of donated socks would encounter. Dark colors hide wear, anti-microbial yarn helps prevent infection and increases the time between washings, and reinforced seams enhance durability.

Goldberg and Heath’s original goal was to donate a million pairs by 2025, but they reached that milestone in less than three years. Today, the real-time ticker on the website’s homepage was up to 4.4 million and counting.