Style 15 Sep
Behind the Brand: Billy Footwear
We had the privilege of sitting down with Billy Price, the cofounder of Billy Footwear, and learning more about his adaptive brand came to life.
How did the idea for Billy Footwear come about?
When I was 18-years old, I ended up falling head-first from a three-storey window, straight into the concrete. I broke my neck and my lower back and was paralysed from the chest down. The accident also affected my hands. My fingers can move but I’m not able to extend them. Put simply, my dexterity is off.
After that, I wasn’t able to do a lot of things anymore, like putting on shoes. Unfortunately, the solutions that were on the market at the time just looked different, and really ‘medical.’ When you’re growing up in school, other kids always remind you that you’re wearing something different. So when it came to fashion, I did everything I could to try and look like everyone else.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I reconnected with my lifelong friend, Darin Donaldson, that the idea for Billy Footwear came about. As we were catching up, he told me about a new product he was challenging himself to make.
That was when I told him: If there was a way I could drop my foot unobstructed into a shoe, and use a zipper around the outside, I could take back my independence.
That was how Billy Footwear was born.
The moment it happened, I remember thinking 1) why didn’t we do this earlier and 2) we have to be able to share this with the world.
What really drove the idea was that example of being different on the playground. I didn’t just want to make an adaptive shoe. It had to be a shoe that can sit on the shelf with the big boys; it needed to be mainstream and have the functionality that someone like myself can enjoy.
The more we told the story, the more it really resonated. Now, it’s interesting how this small idea has reached all corners of the globe.
How long did this whole journey take you?
Darin and I first had this conversation in December 2011. But we couldn’t jump straight into making shoes - we also needed money.
It wasn’t until 2015 that we were featured on reality tv. Because of that, we had to move forward and make a prototype. The day I put my shoes on again for the first time was March 2015. We then did a Kickstarter campaign for funding and it went well. We ran into some issues with our manufacturers, but in the end, we got connected with the right people.
In August 2017, our shoes were on the shelves of major retailers like Nordstrom, and that was when we really started to get exposure.
What does inclusivity mean to you?
Here’s an example I like to use: Think about a coffee shop. You would walk into the shop and I roll into the coffee shop, but you wouldn’t call the coffee shop adaptive. It’s just an inclusive space. So why can’t we apply that to fashion?
One of the things we were concerned about was representing audiences. We didn’t want to have ‘silos’ where one silo represented one audience and one silo represented another audience. We wanted to get rid of that completely and create a product that anyone can be successful with. It was inclusive and equal. It was all about levelling the playing field so that each person can have their own type of success and experience with that one product.
What’s driving you as a team and as a brand?
Right now, we have around 10 people on our team. Our brand is built on the backbone of relationships and our mission is to add value to the lives of others.
What really motivates is the type of feedback we get from people. We hear a lot of stories from parents who can see their child put their shoes on independently for the first time. It’s a massive breakthrough. That experience is what makes us want to keep pushing forward.
The adaptive space had made great strides in the past 12 months. What do you want to see from brands & retailers in the adaptive space in the next 12-24 months?
The big breakthrough would be able to better accommodate one-off type situations and create a full custom type of deal. Essentially, create a fully customisable shoe on a mass scale.
If there was a way that one could virtually capture the shape of someone’s foot, and then have a line of manufacturing systems to accommodate that particular situation to make shoes that are more universal, that would be cool.
The restraints right now are cost. But I’m excited for technology to move in that direction.
How are you coping with COVID-19?
Our business, being e-commerce, has the ability to work remotely forever. So, for the most part, we can all work virtually.
We also rely a lot on our retail partners. We have retail partners all around the planet, in Argentina, Chile, UK, and Spain. Those types of communications are still going on at the moment and we’re also working with the media to tell our story.
Brick and mortar stores are the ones who have pulled back purchases. All of us are being brutal right now, especially in these uncertain conditions, and it’s understandable that we all want to tighten our belts a little bit.
But it’s interesting to see customers are still continuing to hear about the brand. In a time when sales are down, our customer base is continuing to grow and so is our community.