On May 15, 2015, my world changed forever. And what I did that changed my world forever, for all intents and purposes, could be seen as incredibly mundane. It was the kind of thing that, out of context, no one would think of as earth shattering. It was the kind of thing that billions of people do each day — just something that is part of the morning routine to get out the door without thinking twice. So what was this thing? I put on a pair of shoes… independently… for the first time in 18 years.
I was 36 at the time. It was 18 years after my spinal cord injury from a three-story headfirst fall to concrete. The fall left me paralyzed from the chest down with limited hand function. Prior to my injury, I was a fiercely independent kid. But that independence quickly took a turn…
With the breaking of both my neck and back, I instantaneously went from independent to dependent. So many activities that used to be easy became either very difficult or impossible. Over the years, I did figure out how to approach tasks differently, which helped regain some independence. But the one final piece of the puzzle was shoes. There was nothing on the market that I could find that satisfied both the function element that I needed, and the fashion element that I desired. Finding no solution, I teamed with my longtime friend Darin Donaldson (now fellow co-founder) and we did something about it.
“You’d best get the video going because this is going to be good!” I said to Darin before he handed me our much anticipated factory prototype.
“Wow! That’s a real shoe!” I said as I was still comprehending what was about to happen next.
I remember the experience vividly. Propped up in bed, I meticulously unzipped the shoe and lifted my leg to place my foot upon the shoe’s footbed. Then reaching down with my hand, I was able to grab the makeshift-zipper-pull loop and close the shoe over my foot. It worked seamlessly. And unbeknownst to us, it set in motion something bigger than we ever could have expected.
We wanted to share our easy-on, easy-off shoe solution with the world. Essentially take fashion and function and smash the two together in the spirit of creating something inclusive for all. It was critical that the shoes had universal-design appeal so all could enjoy the shoes regardless of ability. Our hopes were to someday be on the shelves of household-name retailers… Maybe launch our own e-commerce store… Maybe grow the business enough to move our operation out of my parent’s basement… And perhaps someday we would be able to grow the business enough that we could step away from our day jobs.
Those were our bold ideas in 2015. And I still find it surreal that we achieved those initial goals. But the part that is even wilder, now seven years later and seeing the future of opportunity, the BILLY brand is only scratching the tip of the iceberg.
This all started with one pair of shoes years ago to overcome my own challenge. This past summer, we sold our millionth pair of shoes. Looking ahead, there is so much opportunity to meet new audiences, take on more projects, and most importantly add more value. It's so exciting to say the least.
I get the question often, “How did BILLY Footwear get to where it is today?”
Word of mouth and building relationships.
We are here because of you. You are our BILLY Family. And I cannot begin to adequately express my true appreciation and gratitude for your support. It means so much to us. Your support drives us to do bigger things. I cannot thank you enough.
Co-Founder of BILLY Footwear