Growing up, Bob Dalton never felt sorry for homeless people.
“I was the guy who drove by homeless people and was like, ‘You need to get a job,’” he said.
In 2013, however, Dalton’s mother became homeless while living in Florida. He couldn’t believe it; his mother was well educated with degrees in Nutrition and Institution Management from Oregon State University. She had owned the same home in which she had raised him and his sister. She lost her mother and brother just months apart in 2010 though and it sent her into a depression she tried to combat with drugs and alcohol. In the summer of 2013, she sold almost everything she had and with a one-way plane ticket she moved across the country. She hoped for a fresh start, but ended up sleeping on benches and begging on the streets.
“It was the first realization that not all choose to be homeless, that some just need a second chance,” Dalton, 25, said.
With his mom across the country, Dalton, a Developmental Skills Coach, felt helpless. He had no money to send her, so he searched for another way to help. He called homeless shelters and asked what they needed. They all said, “blankets,” and before Dalton knew it, he was trodding the aisles of a fabric store in search of fleece. Next, he bought a sewing machine and headed home.
At home, was his wife, Ciara and her friend, Dez Dixon.“ “Girls, I’m starting a blanket company!” he blurted. Ciara had endured other such big ideas and the needle of enthusiasm barely moved with this one.
“A dream is just a dream at the end of the day,” Dalton said. “Until you put some flesh to it, it’s just a skeleton, and I’ve had a lot of skeletons in my life.”
His business plan was to give a homeless shelter a blanket for every blanket he sold. Still, he had no clue how to make them. His first attempt at sewing was a spectacular failure. Ultimately, he found a seamstress and business got under way at Sackcloth & Ashes, so named after a Jewish proverb.
“Every time you wrap yourself in one of our blankets, it symbolizes mourning over the homeless population,” Dalton said. “And repentance, by contributing to a homeless shelter in your area.”
In the first months of business, Sackcloth & Ashes sold all of their summer blankets in the midst of 90 degree temperatures, Dalton said. “That’s when I thought, okay, we’re going to make it as a blanket company.”
On a whim one day in June, 2014, Dalton dropped off a business card at Anthropologie, a hip clothing and homestore in Portland. Two weeks later, he got a phone call. Anthropologie wanted 8,000 blankets.
“So, I’m freaking out,” Dalton said. “We only had 200 in stock.”
Anthropologie bought all of Sackcloth & Ashes’ tweed winter collection. Soon after, Dalton selected five homeless shelters in each of the five separate regions of the United States for the blanket donations including the Portland Rescue Mission.
Dalton’s mother is no longer homeless. She has a job at a Pet Product Factory in Alliance, Ohio where she now lives. In July, Dalton quit his day job to take on the business full-time. He says his wife is very proud, but he still didn’t keep the sewing machine. Focused on the future, Dalton wants to build a nationally recognized brand and also has dreams of making his mark by becoming a leading voice on homelessness in America.
*Article originally done for 1859 Oregon's Magazine.