By: USA Games Correspondent, Tynan Gable
Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people that have come alive.”
Those words inspired Brandi Wasnock to nominate a Seattle-based company called BILLY Footwear (for which she is the Director of Public Relations) to be highlighted in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games’ #ImAGameChanger campaign.
The shoe company was dreamt up by Billy Price and his partner, Darin Donaldson. Initially, the two men were attempting to address the unique challenges Billy has faced for most of his life. In 1996, during his transition between high school and college, Billy fell from a third-story window. This incident left him paralyzed from the chest down, and mandated over six months of rehabilitation that involved extensive mental and physical recovery.
After that, Billy’s limited finger dexterity left him searching for, among other things, adaptive shoes. Unfortunately, he was unable to come across any that came close to meeting his standards in terms of fashion while also giving him the confidence or reassurance of a “normal” shoe. This incident as a whole left Billy feeling like he had truly hit rock bottom, and he recognized he had a decision to make.
“I could either sit around and reflect on the past and what I used to be able to do,” he said, “or I could accept that it’s a miracle to be alive and take advantage of what I am still able to do moving forward. I chose the latter path.”
In a short time, Billy obtained a degree in mechanical engineering, found a condo for himself, bought a car, and got married. In addition to all of this, he and his partner, Darin Donaldson, founded BILLY Footwear.
Their small dream to create a shoe that filled Billy’s needs quickly lead the two founders to strive to be a brand that made a significant global difference. Their core focus was to create shoes that bridged the gap between adaptive and fashionable. This is what lead them to develop their Universal Design concept, which is now behind the functional and fashionable footwear worn by Billy and thousands of his customers.
The design met Billy’s needs by “having a zipper that goes around the outside of the shoe and the toe so the upper part folds over. When you put your foot in flat, you can zip it up and voila — the shoe is on. If you can achieve nominal independence or a peace of mind regarding the little things, it is liberating because then you can focus your mind on other parts of your day instead of being hung up on something small like putting on your shoes.”
The population that now sports BILLY footwear products is very diverse. Some truly benefit from the adaptive features; these shoes are compatible with Ankle and Foot Orthoses (AFO’s) and are easy to put on for those with limited hand and/or foot mobility and strength. These users receive a small sense of independence and pride due to the satisfaction of putting their own shoes on. At the same time, these shoes serve to encourage inclusion in a very subtle and simple way.
Billy still vividly remembers the first day his shoes were available on the shelves of the children’s department in Nordstrom’s and the typically developing brother and sister who proudly purchased and wore their matching BILLY shoes that day. These stories are examples of the two distinct groups that represent opposite ends of the spectrum of BILLY Footwear customers. Regardless of their primary motivation for buying BILLY Footwear, the appreciation of both the style and function of the shoes is consistent across all customers.
The ability of BILLY Footwear to “bridge gap between adaptive and mass market with focus on universal design” is what attracted Brandi to get involved in the company.
She was a full-time Microsoft employee in need of a way to give back to the community. She felt that BILLY Footwear embodied the value of giving, and immediately became a brand advocate for the company. She believes wholeheartedly in all that BILLY Footwear stands for, including the less obvious symbolism of the shoes.
“What people may not realize is how much goes into the logo and stylistic fundamentals of the company. The goat logo embodies fortitude and persistence; a refusal to quit, if you will. The Chevron shaped highlights on the sidewalls and tread symbolize forward movement and momentum. These symbols demonstrate that there is so much more than just a shoe that makes up the foundation of this company.”
The message that BILLY Footwear sends to the world is important because, as Brandi put it, “all people are created equal, and the BILLY brand and shoes embody that completely.”