Giving Back: The Spirit of Balega

Person wearing pink Balega socks enjoying one of the best running books.

The Balega Story

Socks to change the world

Husband and wife duo Bert and Tanya Pictor, had been in the sock business for a couple of decades when they founded Balega. But Balega was more about philanthropy than it was about simply selling socks.

“We’d gotten to a point where we were tired of just working our lives away,” says Tanya. “And we realized that we didn’t want to just work, but that we wanted to work in a way that made a difference. We created a legacy of giving back with Balega.”

The company started in South Africa where both Tanya and Bert grew up. Then, in search of North American distribution, Bert flew to the U.S in 2002 with Balega sock prototypes. And that’s where the Fleet Feet and Balega story begins … on the Fleet Feet sales floor in Greenville, SC.

A person putting on a pair of blue Balega Blister Resist socks

A Longtime Partnership

Sally Nicholson, the former Fleet Feet Greenville, SC owner, introduced Bert to Chris Bevin. Bevin, who now works with Balega was, at the time, a member of the Fleet Feet Inc. team. It wasn’t long before a meeting was scheduled between Balega and Fleet Feet, and a longtime partnership formed. In fact, Balega became an integral part of the Fleet Feet fit process.

“When we came to the US, our socks were different than any other socks out there,” says Bert. “So, I think we disrupted the market completely. We were making velvet while other people were making carpets.”

But the partnership extended well beyond the fit stool (as it still does today). That’s because, like Fleet Feet, Balega is built around community.

“It’s really not about just selling top quality performance socks; it’s about giving back,” says Tanya. The giving back began with the Lesedi Project in their hometown in South Africa.

A person wearing green Balega Silver running socks

A Culture of Giving Back

A school for disadvantaged and disabled children sits on the course of the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, one of the most popular ultramarathons in the world. It’s called the Ethembeni School, and it’s been a source of inspiration for countless Comrades runners, Bert among them.

So, when Bert and Tanya initially sought a philanthropic project, the Ethembeni School made sense. Only a third of the school’s funding is covered by the local government, and most of the remaining monies come from scholarship.

As a way to give back, Balega created the Lesedi Project. How it works: a portion of every single sock sold has funded twelve annual scholarships through 2017, a wheelchair friendly school bus and even a therapy play ground with a swimming pool for the kids.

When Bert and Tanya moved to the US back in the early 2000s, though, they decided the Lesedi project wasn’t enough. “We realized that for every dollar we send away, we needed to keep a dollar here for local initiatives,” says Tanya. “And so that’s what we did.”

Among those are Grit & Grace (a program in partnership with the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, which works to remove environmental causes of breast cancer by developing education around healthy lifestyles), Veterans in Need (a program that helps to build homes for US troops), Back on My Feet (a program to help rejuvenate homeless people and reintegrate them into society through running programs) … and many more.

“For us, it’s small steps in the bigger scheme of things,” says Tanya. “But, just know that if you support Balega, with every single pair you buy a little bit goes back to the community. And every little bit helps. As Nelson Mandela says, it really does take a village.”

Community and Quality

Balega's signature performance socks have a high needle count and gender-specific fit. What’s more, no two styles are alike. Each is designed with performance, comfort and functionality in mind. Every sock has a contoured fit that won’t move while you run (prevents blisters), a deep heel pocket, no seams (again for blister control) and ventilation panels for moisture wicking.

But to ensure all of this is perfect, Balega guarantees that every single pair of socks is hand inspected in either their South African factory or their US factory, which is located in Hickory, NC. Then each is marked with a sticker that includes both the face and name of the employee who inspected it, (You can even write to them!)

“Aside from offering (in our opinion), a product of the highest quality, thoughtful design and true performance, we would like to think that people see us as having a genuine passion for what we do, for having integrity and a measure of humility,” says Pictor.