Bonfolk Puts a Sock In Homelessness

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Photo: facebook.com/bonfolk

 

Getting cold feet is never a good thing, whether metaphorically or in reality. Fortunately, there is a local company that combines warmth and whimsey – and outstanding good works – to keep your tootsies toasty.

“I’d always wanted to start my own clothing company, and do something that gives back in some way,” said Janna Hart Black, owner and designer of Bonfolk.

A New Orleans native, Hart Black moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Archbishop Chappelle High School, and studied fashion design. After completing her studies, she worked as a designer for a women’s clothing company, and her daily commute took her through L.A.’s skid row area. This started her thinking about helping unhoused people.

Everything crystallized on a Christmas visit to her family.

“I saw the need for socks in New Orleans,” she remembered. “No one was doing fun, Louisiana-themed socks. And no one was really doing the one for one business model, either.”

This approach to corporate philanthropy involves donating one item of product for each item sold. Hart Black spoke to several local charitable organizations to confirm the need for socks, learning that indeed, they are among the most requested yet least donated items.

Hart Black started with six designs, inspired by local talismans ranging from crawfish to hot sauce to potholes. “I did every market in town, including the French Market,” she recounted, “and I would sell out every day.”

She started the company with a $6000 SBA loan, and began cold-calling local boutique shops, most of whom responded enthusiastically. Now Bonfolk socks can be found at retail locations ranging from Dirty Coast and Home Malone to the Roosevelt Hotel and the Children’s Museum. Socks come in baby, children and adult sizes, and there are dozens of designs to choose from.

Growth is now moving beyond the local arena, as Hart Black will be participating in upcoming fashion markets in Atlanta and Dallas. The product line is similarly expanding, with 23 new designs to be debuted in spring.

In addition, Bonfolk does custom designs for businesses and corporations, which can be used as staff rewards, promotional giveaways or in-location merchandise. Last year, she created a custom sock for LCMC to give to its employees, and she currently is producing socks for all the universities in the Southeastern Conference.

Yet the success of the business is almost secondary for Hart Black.

“We’re trying to sell as many socks as we can so we can donate as many as we can,” she said. “If we didn’t donate, we would have a better profit margin, but that’s not the point.”

Instead, she continued, “we try to make the products affordable enough to be a gift item, while making enough profit to keep the operation going.”

The donated socks are plain, mostly just black with the Bonfolk logo; while this helps keep costs down, it also meets the requests of the housing shelters, which prefer the simpler approach.

Along with socks, Bonfolk also sells and donates towels, based on similar designs. While these cost more to produce, Hart Black discovered a need for these in among a variety of nonprofits, from veterans homes to swim programs to animal shelters. Bonfolk is the first and only company in the world to use the one for one approach with towels.

In addition to gracing the shelves of local retailers, Bonfolk items can be ordered directly from the company’s website. Nonprofits can also sign up to participate in the donation program at bonfolk.com. While the majority of the products are distributed locally, Bonfolk donates across the entire country.

The company’s name is as whimsical as its product line: Hart Black was searching for something that would convey a positive image, as well as her Louisiana heritage. “Bon” of course means “good” in French, and the notion of “good people” fit perfectly with the connotation she wanted to project.

In these topsy-turvy times, a company that provides products that make people happy while meeting a need, and that also supports highly vulnerable populations, truly is good people.

 

 

Categories: Neighborhood Biz