When Billy Price suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down in 1996, simple, everyday tasks — such as dressing himself — became a challenge. Over the years, he discovered adaptive solutions, but the one thing he never mastered was putting on shoes.
Then, in a moment of inspiration, Price came up with the idea for a shoe with a wraparound zipper. Once unzipped, the shoe’s upper opens and folds back completely, allowing people to place their feet inside unobstructed. A quick tug on the zipper pull closes the shoe securely. Price teamed up with longtime friend Darin Donaldson to launch Billy Footwear in 2015, working with an overseas manufacturer to make his concept a reality.
“The prototype came back, and the factory nailed it. It was the first time in 20 years that I was able to put on my own shoes,” said Price, noting he intentionally avoided using Velcro. “Velcro just screams adaptive, and I didn’t want that connotation. I want our shoes to have universal appeal and be worn by everybody.”
In April 2016, the fledgling company got a big publicity boost when its concept was featured on the Oxygen reality series “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” That was followed by a successful Kickstarter campaign involving zippered sneakers for kids and adults. Now the brand has caught the eye of major retailers including Zappos and Nordstrom, which began stocking Billy kids’ shoes last August.
“We’re starting with kids because the functionality makes so much sense for that audience. Every parent knows the struggle of trying to get out the door quickly in the morning,” Donaldson said, noting that the brand plans to introduce adult sneakers as well as other types of footwear and even apparel. Available in toddler and youth sizes, the Billy kids’ line features slip-on and high-top styles in an assortment of materials. Retail prices range from $45 to $60.