For those fortunate enough to be able to work from home, this is (more or less) the 29th week of doing it. And over that time, retail watchers have told us, the sales of all sorts of items have shot through the roof.
First, it was essentials like hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Then we shifted to snack-ready foods like peanut butter and frozen pizza. Next, Americans swarmed to buy stuff to keep them distracted—puzzles, board games and Netflix subscriptions.
But amid the purchasing frenzy, the demand for one item that most of us hardly think about also hit the top of the charts: socks.
Socks were already notching steady sales gains even before the pandemic. According to Transparency Market Research, the sock segment (worth nearly $43 billion globally) is expected to grow at a rate of 4.5% per year through 2027. NPD’s last report on socks from 2014 valued the American sock segment at $5.6 billion. It, too, charted steady sales gains, and attributed these to men’s fashion.
“Men are driving the growth in this category because over the past few years, socks have become yet another outlet for expressing the extra splash of pattern and color they seek,” NPD chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen wrote in the report.
Randy Goldberg is well aware of these trends, as well he should be. In 2013, Goldberg founded direct-to-consumer sock brand Bombas along with business partner David Heath. Bombas has seen its sales rise, too, especially during the pandemic—as high as 40% on some weeks.
But in the age of Covid-19, Goldberg has observed a whole new, pandemic-specific reason why the market wants socks. It has little to do with fashion, since Americans working from home are hardly dressing to impress these days. Instead, it’s more about self-pampering.
“In this moment, people are looking for comfort,” Goldberg said. “You can indulge in a little bit of personal comfort that feels like luxury.”
Indeed, Goldberg ventures that many Americans staying home usually aren’t wearing anything other than socks. Which means they’re now doing a kind of double duty on American feet. “Socks,” he said, “are the new shoes.”
Pandemic-era sales have validated Bombas’ approach to design in a way few other market forces could. After all, the brand’s single-minded insistence on comfort above all else—even aesthetics—is a rarity in the sock world. Shoppers can easily turn to other brands for socks that are dressier (pinstripes, paisley, polka dots and all the rest), but they’re less likely to find a brand that’s thought as much about engineering as Bombas has.
“Everyone thinks if you make a decent sock, it will be comfortable,” Goldberg said. “But it’s not true.”
Aside from their most visible attributes—soft, long-staple cotton, a cushioned footbed—Bombas socks incorporate a number of less obvious technical features that, Goldberg said, set his brand apart.
There’s no seam on the toe, for example, which eliminates the bunching-up we all feel in our shoes. Bombas assembles its heels with a Y-shaped stitch that cups the end of the foot. There’s also an elastic honeycomb grid that encircles the sock’s midsection to provide built-in arch support. Bombas boasts that its no-show socks (these make up nearly a third of sales on average) will never slide down into your shoe because of its ergonomic design that hugs the contour of the foot, with extra-thick PVC grips fastened to the inside of the heel.