After being injured as a teenager and becoming dependent on a wheelchair, Seattle resident Billy Pride took his independence back with a global business creating fashionable, accessible shoes.
Price said an accident as a teenager would later serve as the motivator to creating his own shoe line.
“I broke my neck as a teenager,” Price said. “When that happened, there were just a lot of things I used to be able to do that I can no longer do — and one of those things was putting on my shoes.”
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Price earned his degree in mechanical engineering and began working for the Federal Aviation Administration, where he worked for 16 years.
“I felt that I was kind of reaching my ceiling of where I could go in the FAA, and I had more to offer,” Price said. “I think part of that is rooted in when I broke my neck — a three-story fall headfirst into concrete. If you do the numbers, you could very easily die. But for whatever reason I didn't. I'm still around.”
Price relied on someone else to put his shoes on him since he was injured at 18 until age 36, when he reconnected with an old friend and later shoe line co-founder Darren Donaldson, who was working on a shoe project.
Price shared his idea of having a shoe with an easy-access zipper on the side.
They made the prototype, and Price was able to put on his shoes himself for the first time since his fall.
“In that moment in time, I was then able to take back that independence,” Price said.
From that moment, BILLY Footwear was born. Price and Donaldson decided to market a shoe that was both fashionable and appealing to the general public but also easy to put on for people who have trouble doing so, like Price.
“We approached the market of creating something mainstream that had the functionality that I could also use,” Price said. “That's what we set out to do. It's pretty great because that's exactly what we accomplished.”
The business took off when Donaldson and Price connected with their friend Patrick Foster, who had connections with Nordstrom and Zappos. They presented their vision, and the retail stores gave them a chance.
They then started their eCommerce site, which enabled them to sell on a global level.
“We started working with Clearbanc,” Price said. “It's been able to remove the stress of coming up with capital and allows us to focus on the banking and internet.”
Since then, Price has received stories from thankful customers, including parents whose children can put their own shoes on for the first time, to people pleased with the new fashion of shoes he was providing.
“The more of those like types of stories that came our way, the more it galvanized us that we were on just this wonderful path of adding value, and it just forced us to move forward and to grow,” Price said.
Price recalls the excitement he felt when his shoes first hit the shelves in the downtown Seattle Nordstrom and he saw a mom walk out with two children wearing his new shoes — a brother and sister wearing the same high-tops.
“When I was in Bellevue and we were hosting an event and there were a bunch of kids who showed up in wheelchairs and some with autism,” Price said. “[Kids with] these various challenges are showing up and they're coming in. They're buying the same shoes, and they're going away with smiles on their face.”
Price said he felt fulfilled after seeing his product serve these youth in a powerful, yet simple way.
“It’s so special for someone that's been struggling for such a long time,” Price said. “It's just connection, and it's so much easier when you're already in the community, and then you can work with various associations in the community to just continue to kind of fuel that flame.”
Out of BILLY Footwear, Price, who lives in Capitol Hill, started BILLY Cares, a motivational speaking platform and brand that gives back to the community.
Price uses his platform to speak to different organizations to inspire others and deliver motivational messages through his story. He also has advice for other Seattle entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business.
“You have to lean into it, and there's going to be lots of hurdles along the way,” he said. “You're going to fail.”
When that happens, Price said it is important to sort things out and start up again.
“It's also really important to choose your association wisely,” Price said. “Someone told me one time that if you pick like the five people you associate with, the mannerisms the collective five take on are same kind of manners that you take on.”
Between being persistent and casting a wide net, Price also spoke of the importance of websites like Clearbanc enabling business people to sell their product locally as well as globally. He said he has been able to have an impact on a greater scale as a result.
“I felt like there's something in me that I can add more value, and it just came together,” Price said. “The shoe company became that outlet to do just that.”
Visit BILLY Footwear at https://billyfootwear.com/. To learn more about BILLY Cares, go to https://billyfootwear.com/pages/billy-cares.