For globe-trotting entrepreneur Hannah Davis, the idea to start a shoe brand began, quite naturally, in the world’s shoe-making capital: China.
While living in the country teaching English, she saw workers and farmers wearing simple pairs of rugged shoes — and those looks became the inspiration for Bangs Shoes, the men’s and women’s sneaker brand that Davis founded at age 22.
Now 29, she continues to develop the startup label one shoe at a time, and always with an eye toward adventure.
The collection currently consists of a dozen SKUs, retailing for $45 to $60 on Bangsshoes.com and each named for a special location around the globe. The most recent addition to the line is the Blue Ridge Parkway high-top, named for the famed National Parkway near Asheville, N.C. (where Davis lived for more than a year before recently moving to Austin, Texas).
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Bangs Shoes Blue Ridge Parkway high-top, $60; Bangsshoes.com
But the global focus isn’t just in the shoe names. Bangs has partnered with micro-finance nonprofit Kiva and is investing 20 percent of its net profits to help support other entrepreneurs. To date, the brand (whose name means “help” in Mandarin) has invested in 512 entrepreneurs in 61 countries, including the U.S.
In addition, Bangs has developed a robust ambassador program with everyday individuals across the world.
Here, Davis shares a few thoughts on entrepreneurship and how she’s succeeded so far:
Footwear News: What inspired you to start the brand?
Hannah Davis: “I first visualized Bangs Shoes when I was 22. Like most college-aged students, I felt — and still feel — a sense of duty towards humanity and am passionate about using my time to uplift our community. I wanted to create a company that invests in people. Living abroad proved that ambition, pride, hope and dignity transcend geographic and cultural boundaries. This is why Bangs provides opportunities. Each month, we hand-select entrepreneurs to help people start their own businesses.”
What, personally, is the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
HD: “Our operations are 100 percent online, so I work from home in front of the computer most days. Overall that’s great for the company, but at times it’s difficult to find a balance between the daily computer grind and getting out to experience life. I’ve learned that having a balanced overall human experience is so important to the success of your business.”
How does the ambassador program contribute to the brand?
HD: “The program is difficult to manage, but creating a real community has made my job so much more fun and added a dimension to this brand I could have never imagined. We have 1,500 passionate adventures spread across the globe who believe in and work towards furthering our mission. It’s humbling. Four years into the program, I’m still shocked reading some applications. Like why are you applying? It’s too good to be true.”
What has been the biggest highlight for you so far with Bangs?
HD: “How much I learn every day. This process has been so intricate, from product development and website design to social media management. When you’re running a startup, you have to know how to do everything — or at least enough to be dangerous.
“I also love seeing someone who I don’t know wearing Bangs and asking them how they heard about the company. It’s quite incredible to hear how it has become something personal to them, completely outside of anything I do. Then their creativity and passion fuels me. It’s funny how that circle works.”