You slip your shoes on one foot at a time. The concept is natural, easy and hardly requires a second thought. But what if it wasn’t so simple? What if a physical limitation prevented you from literally putting on your shoes?
That was the case for 1996 Issaquah High School grad Billy Price, who became paralyzed from the chest down after falling out of a third-story window at his University of Washington fraternity in October 1996.
The accident took away the ability to move much of his body, making daily tasks, such as putting on clothes, difficult. Through the years, he learned tricks to independently get dressed, but finding shoes that functionally work for him and were aesthetically pleasing was an elusive task.
So Price came up with his own solution in BILLY Footwear, a shoe designed to work for everyone.
“I’ve not been able to put my shoes on independently in 18 years and now I can,” he said.
The patent-pending design uses zippers along the side of the shoe and around the toe. Unzipping unfurls the shoe’s upper flap completely, allowing the wearer to place his or her foot inside unobstructed. Pull the loop on the zipper and the wearer’s foot is now secure.
“Zippers in shoes is not an original idea, but zippers in shoes like this, is,” Price said. “And to be able to put your foot in differently, I’ve never seen that before and that’s really the inspiration.”
BILLY Footwear is the brainchild of co-founders Price and Darin Donaldson, a 1997 Issaquah High School graduate who lives in Sammamish. The two friends grew up together near present-day Skyline High School, attending Sunny Hills Elementary and Pine Lake Middle schools before graduating from Issaquah.
The duo recently brought BILLY Footwear to the small screen, pitching the concept on Oxygen’s “Quit Your Day Job” in an episode that premieres on April 13 at 10 p.m.
Much like ABC’s “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of investors who then use their business expertise, industry knowledge and creative vision to determine which up-and-coming products have the potential to be the next big thing.
Investors, including Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media and sister of Facebook co-founder Mark, provide onsite, hands-on mentoring to the entrepreneurs who must prove they have what it takes to turn the concept into a viable business.
For those companies that prevail, the idea is that the investment will allow the entrepreneurs to quit their day jobs and focus on the business.
“We didn’t come into this intending to quit our day jobs, but if it does get to that point, we’d definitely love to do this full time,” said Price who lives in Seattle and works at the Federal Aviation Administration.
While the entrepreneurs could not give away details of the show’s outcome — the episode aired after The Press’ deadline — the two did say the experience confirmed they could make a difference.
Price and Donaldson believe that BILLY Footwear’s market is diverse. They wanted to create a shoe that appeals and works for everyone.
The shoe’s function makes it relevant for kids, senior citizens and others that might have various neurological disorders or limitations, Donaldson said. Stylish designs make it just as appealing as any other footwear in the mass market.
“It’s a shoe that I really hope doesn’t scream adaptive,” Price said.
Customers can order shoes through a Kickstarter campaign that debuts on April 13. They are starting with a few designs, including ones for men, women and children, with the hope of expanding in the future. The Kickstarter campaign goal is $30,000.
“Sky’s the limit, really,” Donaldson said about BILLY Footwear’s future. “We really feel that there are some big markets for our shoes, and it serves a need to complete this simple task that most people take for granted everyday.”
Christina Corrales-Toy, eastofseattle.news digital editor