There is something extremely exciting and encouraging about the development and explosion of young entrepreneurs making a difference and impacting the world through their businesses. Hannah Davis, founder of BANGS shoes is a strong example of a passionate young entrepreneur who is making a difference while doing something she loves.
Hannah’s journey to turn BANGS from an idea into a reality is one that would have left a weaker person far behind. Her passion and perseverance would not allow her to fail or even to consider giving up. Even through what seemed to be an endless battle of finding a manufacturer and gaining the resources to produce her product, Hannah knew that it was not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’ as she explains in the following interview.
General Business Information
Company: BANGS Shoes
Founder: Hannah Davis
Date Founded: June 2010
City/State: Charleston, SC
Current Employees: 1 person on BANGS payroll
Michael Luchies: Have you always considered yourself entrepreneurial?
Hannah Davis: I do see myself as having the qualities necessary to be an entrepreneur, but founding and operating a business was never on my list of things to do. I have a degree in Political Science with a minor in Mandarin. My passion resides with the potential for individual action to positively impact social development. Running a social enterprise that uses a business plan to make this impact a reality seems to fit with my passion and drive.
ML: How did you get the idea for BANGS Shoes?
HD: BANGS is a social enterprise that connects an ideology to a specific style of shoes.
There was no one event that sparked the inspiration for the ideology behind BANGS. In retrospect there were a series of experiences that helped form my worldview and an inextinguishable desire to affect change. There was, however, one specific event that inspired me to connect this desire for change with the style of BANGS shoes.
While teaching English in China after I graduated from Clemson, a friend and fellow teacher at Nantong University bought a pair of Chinese worker’s shoes from an army surplus store. This event showed me the potential for this specific style of shoes in the Western market and inspired me to develop the quality and look of the shoes to sell in the US.
ML: Very cool. How did this experience result in associating each color of BANGS shoes with a specific nonprofit cause?
HD: The correlation between colors and causes for BANGS shoes was developed through conversations and bouncing around ideas with trusted friends. Once the decision was made that each color of BANGS would represent a different cause, I had to make a decision about how this could maximize positive impact. Would BANGS start a new organization to benefit each cause? Would we partner with already existing organizations? What would partnerships look like? I ultimately decided that impact is made through community leaders, and because there are so many amazing organizations that are already have a presence in communities around the globe, why not work together?
ML: You have four colors representing different causes, are you planning on creating any more in the near future?
HD: Yes! We are currently in development of all-black and all-white high tops that will roll out in July 2013. The black high tops will invest in Education in the USA, and the white high tops will invest inFinancial Empowerment.
The nonprofit partner for Financial Empowerment is Kiva, and we are still researching partners forEducation in the USA. Please send suggestions of US-based 501(c)3 organizations that work to provide Education in the USA to firstname.lastname@example.org!
ML: After you had the idea to bring the shoes over to the US, how did you decide on the name?
HD: I decided on the name of the company long before I ever saw an order of BANGS shoes. The summer of 2010, a few weeks after I conceptualized the color – cause correlation for a shoe company, I decided to link the name of the company to the ideology behind the brand. The Chinese character for the word “help” is phonetically spelled b-a-n-g. BANGS.
ML: The first shipment of BANGS took just over two years from an idea to being shipped to your door, how did you stick with it, and what hurdles did you have to overcome to make your dream a reality?
HD: I get that question a fair amount, and the honest answer is the idea of giving up rarely crossed my mind. When you are so far in to something that an idea becomes an indistinguishable part of who you are, your reality switches and it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.
The biggest hurdle was securing a manufacturer to make the first order of BANGS. When you’re competing for spots in a factory with companies like Nike and Adidas who place orders of 50,000 pairs of shoes every couple of weeks… there’s a lot of waiting around you have to do.
ML: Has your age been an obstacle or benefit to your business? Why?
HD: It depends on the situation.
When I am speaking to college groups, I think my age is a benefit. I can easily relate to the audience because I remember very vividly what is was like to be where they are.
When I am speaking with people who have established 20 or 30-year careers running profitable businesses, I think my age can be an obstacle. I have found, however, that in most situations if you are respectful, maintain confidence, and prepared for the situation- age is irrelevant.
ML: What is your best piece of advice for young entrepreneurs?
HD: My two best pieces of advice are: 1) Be confident no matter what. Not cocky or arrogant, but confident, and 2) Ask for help when you need it.
I had someone once say to me, “I want you to entertain the idea you don’t know everything. I’m not saying you don’t know everything, but just entertain the idea.”
Once I came to terms with the (painful) reality that I do not know everything, it certainly became easier to ask for help. Asking for help has, without a doubt, been a factor in propelling BANGS to where it is today.
ML: What do you like to read? What are your favorite business related books?
HD: I spend a lot of time in my car these days so I’ve been in to books on tape. I just finished Into the Wild, which I highly recommend. I choose to read books for pleasure so the majority of my business reading is done online through articles and blogs.
ML: Who are your entrepreneurial role models?
HD: I find Steve Jobs’ story inspiring. Obviously he was wildly successful with an idea that revolutionized the way people live, but he is so far removed it is difficult to soak in real, every day lessons. My Grandfather is an amazing, relatable entrepreneurial role model. He has run a successful Optometry business in Illinois for over 65 years and has a remarkable aura of wisdom and diplomatic poise I can only hope to one-day garnish.
ML: Did you have any mentors to help you through this journey?
HD: Absolutely. Most notably is George Derhofer, part owner & Chairman of BANGS. I met George and his wife, Gail, while bartending in Charleston, South Carolina during month 20 of BANGS development.
George is year six in to retirement. His first entrepreneurial venture was with Klondike Ice Cream Bars from 1978 – 1989, and his most recent position was Senior Executive level held with VF. VF is a multi-billion dollar company that owns and manages apparel brands. Aside from George’s wealth of knowledge obtained from a 32-year career in business, his teaching style is direct, honest, and centered around constant communication.
I have spoken with George 4 days a week (give or take a few here and there) since being a signed partner in BANGS, and he has never once been condescending or held his experience over my head. I won the mentor lottery.
I would urge every young entrepreneur to seek out a mentor, which remains in line with my advice to ask for help when you need it.
ML: What is next for BANGS Shoes?
HD: At our core, BANGS will work to continue inspiring a generation of leaders to take conscious action with a focus on long-term sustainable development.
BANGS’ next tangible steps are to expand our retail partners and college ambassador program to the West Coast. BANGS currently has a presence on 21 campuses on the east coast, and is always looking for new campuses to work with! To find more information about how to get involved, find details byclicking here.
Hannah’s story and business are hard to ignore. She was destined to succeed no matter what obstacles she had to overcome. Whether you are a bartender in South Carolina or doing landscape work in the Midwest while working on developing your dream business, don’t ever give up on what you are passionate about.
Thank you to Hannah Davis for the incredible interview and for sharing BANGS Shoes and her story.
Michael Luchies is an entrepreneur, avid sports fan, and passionate supporter of everything entrepreneurship. He has been published on Under30CEO, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Sports, ThinkEntrepreneurship.com, Tuff Stuff Magazine, and many other outlets.
Image Credit: BANGS Shoes