A blanket can be …
A vessel for comfort and warmth.
A tapestry for design, creativity and connection.
A gift for nearly anyone, symbolizing care and affection.
A blanket can also be hard to come by for adults who are homeless or transitioning into a group home, or kids moving into or through foster care.
Social entrepreneur Bob Dalton came to this understanding while watching his mother pass through a period of homelessness. She’s now on staff at Portland Rescue Mission’s Drive Away Hunger.
But back then, as he was encouraging and helping his mother to find stability, he was also reaching out to homeless shelters and asking how he could help. Over and over he heard, “Blankets.”
A lightbulb turned on for the social entrepreneur. For every blanket sold, the company would donate one to a homeless shelter in the customer’s community. But not just any blankets. Twin-size, fleece blankets serve people well in homeless shelters; they also have to be durable for everyday washing.
That’s how it started, and that’s how it’s continued. With many more intricate details and a few significant turns, of course.
Early on, Bob identified Anthropologie as a potential retail partner. He visited a local store to discuss the brand with a buyer. Although a buyer wasn’t on site that day, a week or so later one called and asked to buy all of the available blankets in the sample pattern he had left. About 800 Sackcloth & Ashes blankets went out into the world that way, and awareness of the brand began to grow.
And then came the Instagram feature to 42 million people. On Instagram’s Instagram, no less. One post, the day before Black Friday 2014, created a huge boost in awareness, site traffic and sales.
Thankfully, around the same time, the brand had ramped up its manufacturing and solidified its sustainability practices by partnering with a mill in Italy that produces fabric from discarded clothing and other textiles. With the “new” yarn, they produce Sackcloth & Ashes fabric on Jacquard looms, enabling high-quality manufacturing of the brand’s signature intricate, beautiful patterns at scale.
And not a moment too soon. With the boost in brand awareness provided by the Instagram feature, Sackcloth & Ashes’ sales grew exponentially. In the beginning, the company was selling about 2,000 blankets annually. Now, the company produces around 15,000 blankets per month.
Wholesale partnerships with Cost Plus World Market and REI are very important for brand recognition and sales. Still, B2B accounts for about 40 percent of Sackcloth & Ashes’ sales. Repeat customers like Churchill Mortgage and KB Home give the blankets as gifts to employees.
It’s fair to say that a portion of these recipients buy Sackcloth & Ashes blankets on their own. Sackcloth & Ashes is proud to have a 23% return customer rate.
In 2023 and beyond, Sackcloth & Ashes will be:
- Supporting its partnerships, including product lines for Disney (NatGeo and Star Wars).
- Collaborating with independent designers, including Naiomi Glasses of the Navajo Nation.
- Building a network of “mom and pop” and smaller regional retailers, like goodMRKT in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Such relationships will help to reinforce the local impact that’s central to the Sackcloth & Ashes brand purpose.
- Moving ever closer to reaching its Blanket the United States goal. In 2018, the brand set a goal to donate 1 million blankets to homeless shelters across the U.S. by June of 2024, its 10-year anniversary.
- Highlighting the good work and solutions created by other individuals and organizations, and giving voice to those experiencing homelessness. Be sure to check out Street Stories and Blanket Drops.
We’re humbled to have become more familiar with this mission-driven company. We’re also confident that its impact will only continue to grow. Check out the blanket collection, and the stories, at Sackcloth & Ashes today.