These times call for more than just socks.
If you’ve ever fretted over having enough clean underwear, imagine being homeless without access to a proper clothes washer or a dresser in which to store them.
Fortunately Bombas, which began with the premise of providing socks to homeless shelters through the “buy one, give one” model, is now expanding its enterprise to offer underwear for both men and women.
It’s a natural extension for the brand given that underwear is the second most-requested item by the homeless after socks, said Randy Goldberg, a co-founder and chief brand officer. That’s because, like socks, only new pairs of underwear are allowed to be donated for purposes of hygiene.
“I think about our growth in terms of what we’re putting out into the world, the people we’re bringing together and the impact on the homeless community,” Goldberg said.
But for Bombas, the launch is an opportunity to shift from a company focused solely on socks to a multi-product business, said Dave Heath, also a co-founder and CEO.
While the fast-growing company—which generated nearly $250 million in sales in 2020—also offers t-shirts, most of the focus remained on socks, he said. Underwear, which Goldberg roughly approximated as the jelly to socks’ peanut butter, essentially serves as a bridge to t-shirts (the third most requested item by homeless shelters), allowing Bombas to widen the scope of its messaging to consumers.
As the digitally-native brand embarks on this new path, it’s heartening to know that it is succeeding with a model where others have fallen short. The company has been profitable since its beginning, and has donated over 45 million items of clothing, according to Heath.
“We didn’t start the business with the idea of building the next billion dollar business,” he said.
Rather, the intent was to solve a pressing problem by creating a sustainable business, no matter if that resulted in a company with $20 million in sales or $200 million in sales, Heath added.
That pragmatism, in the name of building a business that could honor its commitment to both homeless shelters and its employees, helped Bombas avoid the fate of brands that burned through cash in order to acquire customers and grow more quickly.
Goldberg said that great brands are built over decades, citing the examples of Nike and Patagonia, which were lauded in their early years not for their sales growth, but rather the quality of their products.
“We want our story to be about what we’re doing in the world, not about how much we’re worth,” he said.
As for the product itself, the idea was to design underwear for the more typical or average human body type rather than for a model, Goldberg explained, noting that it took two years to develop the new products.
He said the underwear for men is made with a cotton modal, which is cotton blended with a fiber made from beech wood tree pulp that keeps you cool and has a natural feel that doesn’t bag or sag. The product also lacks a heavy waist band that pinches. On certain styles, it even features a patent-pending diagonal fly.
The women’s underwear, on the other hand, is made either with the cotton modal or a nylon modal (or seamless as Bombas calls the fabrication). The undergarment is constructed with a seamless technique in order to carry a low profile. The idea is that the customer puts it on and then forgets they’re even wearing it. Both the men’s and women’s designs are meant to appeal to a wide demographic.