These 3 Challenger Brands Have a Bigger Purpose Than Just Profits and Growth

Values and business can mix

It's not always a balancing act to align a purpose with a brand. - Credit by Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

In today’s advertising and marketing landscape, there’s no shortage of brands taking a stand for something bigger than the bottom line. For some, like Patagonia or Nike, those messages become iconic cultural moments. For others, like upstarts Bombas, Naadam and Encantos, they serve as a different way to connect with consumers.

At the Brandweek: Challenger Brands event in New York, these three companies spoke about the values the brand embodies and why it’s still so important to remind each of their customers what they stand for.

Part of the brand’s mission means never forgetting to tell the origin story

Bombas, a sock company, originally started out with a mission to help an underserved community. The co-founders realized that homeless shelters are in need of socks—since according to Randy Goldberg, co-founder and chief brand officer of Bombas, they can’t accept used socks because of hygiene issues. So, in Bombas’ quest to remedy that need for homeless shelters, they set out to create a new sock with a model like Toms Shoes: buy a pair, donate a pair.

We got a little bit obsessed with socks,” Goldberg said. “We realized there was a lot of white space and a lot of features and a lot of ways that you could bring comfort to something that was an afterthought in the marketplace. It was an afterthought for donation, and it just seemed like the perfect marriage.”

Five years later, Bombas has donated 15 million pairs of socks. While the number is definitely great for the company, part of Goldberg’s job as chief brand officer is to make sure consumers are still understanding what the company stands for. Part of that entails collaborating with the in-house creative team to come up with the right messaging and experiment with it.

“When we went to market, we were focused on two things: the mission and the product,” Goldberg said. “These are always the two pillars of our company. We struggle with always with what we tell first—the mission or the product. We just did a lot of testing. If something didn’t work, it got pulled and then a new line or a new visual or a new cut of a video.”

"We struggle with always with what we tell first—the mission or the product. We just did a lot of testing. If something didn’t work, it got pulled and then a new line or a new visual or a new cut of a video."
-Randy Goldberg, co-founder and chief brand officer, Bombas

Down the pipeline, Bombas will continue expanding into more socks, as well a new category: T-shirts, with the same philosophy of donating one for one. The company also plans on expanding internationally and looking into wholesale and retail.

If consumers feel part of the brand and the mission, it’s a win-win

Naadam, a direct to consumer cashmere company, first started out internationally in Mongolia. Co-founder and CEO Matt Scanlan quit his job, tried to find himself in the middle of the Gobi desert and ended up on the other side of that experience with a business and non-profit mission. Naadam’s core business value is sourcing the cashmere material directly from Mongolian growers to better assess how well it’s growing and what can be changed.

“[W]e realized in the process of purchasing the material [that] the most value we could create was owning the end-to end supply chain,” Scanlan said. “The way we think about the business we built is we don’t want to own machinery and manufacturing.”

The proof that it’s working? Naadam sold 100,000 $75 cashmere sweaters three months after the product debuted, said Scanlan.

“For us, it really typified our brand value, which is affordability, sustainability and really high quality,” Scanlan said. “And if you can make sustainability—and I don’t love that word, I’m really not married to it—but if you can make it accessible, you can equalize it. You can offer it to everybody. You can make it something that everyone feels like they should be a part of.”

"If you can make [your product] accessible, you can equalize it. You can offer it to everybody. You can make it something that everyone feels like they should be a part of."
-Matt Scanlan, co-founder and CEO, Naadam


@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.