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Running Forward: Hannah Davis of BANGS Shoes

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BANGS Shoes Founder and CEO Hannah Davis shares the story of her company’s unexpected start and subsequent growth.

By Abigail Rosenthal, Photos by Molly Davis, Logan Sullivan, and Jared Ruschmann

After graduating from Clemson University in 2009, BANGS Shoes Founder and CEO Hannah Davis faced a similar situation to that of many other college graduates, past and present: She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to pursue in life.That uncertainty led Davis thousands of miles away to teach English in China for a year. She found the answer to her life’s question in a pair of shoes she bought on the side of the road.

“What was really neat about them was that they were boots but they were made of canvas,” she says. “I bought a pair, and then my contract ended, and I was like, ‘I am not leaving this country until I know what I’m going to do with my life.’ I literally woke up in bed one day and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s those shoes.’ ”

Inspired by companies like TOMS and Patagonia, which use business to effect social change, Davis founded BANGS Shoes, donating 20 percent of her profits to fund entrepreneurs throughout the world. Since shipping out the first pair of shoes in October 2012, the company has supported 667 entrepreneurs in 63 countries.

“Bangs means ‘help’ in Mandarin, and we launched with the inspiration of these Chinese shoes with the monochromatic look all the way around, partnered with a nonprofit to help us reach our social-impact goals, and here we are,” she says.

Outside of making positive changes in communities across the globe, Davis and her company have found success in the business world as well. In November, BANGS reached $1 million in sales, despite a lack of traditional advertising or retail sales.

“It wasn’t until a year ago where I was like, ‘I think I’m a business person,’ ” she says, laughing. “I am running a business, it seems.”

As CEO, Davis oversees everything from developing new shoe designs to managing the company’s recently launched brand-ambassador program.

“When we’re growing this fast, I’ll clock 13-hour days multiple days in a row,” she says. “But I don’t even notice it; I’ll just be grinding away. I don’t know if I could work like that for any other capacity, but this is such a love and a passion project.”

In March, Davis moved from Asheville, N.C. to Austin in order to further expand BANGS, drawn by the startup community here.

“The goal is for BANGS to be like Vans or Converse,” she says. “I want this to be a really big household name. We’re very far from that, but we’ve experienced some really exciting growth. The plan for Austin is just to keep learning, keep growing and hopefully, we’ll get there one day.”

Davis has similar goals for herself in the future.

“I don’t ever want to quit learning,” she says. “I think that’s when you backslide, and there’s no such thing as standing still. In business, you’re either going forward or you’re backsliding. The goal is just stay on our toes…without losing focus of what’s important.”

 

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