Story by Frances Figart | Photo by Joye Ardyn Durham
It was Valentine’s Day, 2012. Hannah Davis was living in Charleston, South Carolina and bartending full-time at South End Brewery. A couple came in and were seated at a high-top table near the big TVs. Their server was overwhelmed, so Hannah volunteered to take their order.
When she began to interact with them, there was an immediate connection. They were from North Carolina, like her, and on their way to Florida to experience their first Bar Mitzvah. They were only in Charleston for a single afternoon re-charge of beer and nachos.
The man asked Hannah to tell them something interesting about herself. She considered her usual response: chatting about the culture around Charleston. But something felt different about these people.
“I weighed my options,” she says. “Give the friendly couple the beach run-around? Or talk openly and honestly? I decided to share my idea for BANGS Shoes.”
She had been talking to friends and family about starting the theoretical company for several years and had moved to Charleston specifically to launch it. The name “BANGS” means help in Mandarin, a language she minored in when she got her political science degree at Clemson University. While teaching English in China, she had been impressed by the simple yet supportive shoes worn by workers and farmers. What if she could create an adventure shoe line using this model, and help others at the same time?
Back in the brewery, the man, George, started asking questions and even requested her business plan, which took Hannah a bit off guard. “I politely declined his offer when the woman, Gail, set down her fork and knife, looked me square in the eyes and said, ‘Hannah, you should listen to him. He knows what he’s talking about.’”
Turns out, George is a retired executive from one of the largest parent apparel companies in the world. Possessing a lifetime of industry knowledge with specific applications for Hannah’s idea, George became her mentor—and the now-Asheville-based BANGS Shoes became a reality.
BANGS Shoes are adventure inspired canvas and rubber footwear for everyday use. The latest model, Blue Ridge Parkway Hightops, is an homage to the Asheville section of our beautiful landmark parkway. Another model, the Deep Sea Slip On, is the center of a giveaway by The Laurel of Asheville (See the story on page 92). Founder and president of the company and not yet 30 years old, Hannah has cultivated an army of more than 1,600 brand ambassadors all over the world, including a handful in Western North Carolina.
BANGS gives 20 percent of its shoe sale proceeds to a nonprofit partner, KIVA, which provides recyclable loans that change lives on an international scale. Each month, Hannah and her team hand-select entrepreneurs and help people start their own businesses.
“Our simple, canvas lace-ups have shipped to all 50 states and ten countries and have been worn by thousands of brand Ambassadors on adventures around the world,” Hannah says. “We have helped invest in more than 500 entrepreneurs in 60 countries. Our business is one hundred percent online, our office is wherever my laptop is.”
Now, when she reflects on her intentions for starting BANGS, Hannah remembers believing with all her heart and soul that she and her team could help a lot of people. “I first visualized BANGS Shoes when I was 22 years old. I wanted to create a company that invested in people. Living abroad proved to me that ambition, pride, hope and dignity transcend geographic and cultural boundaries.”
This is why BANGS provides opportunities for success. And Hannah says she could never have imagined the community that would be built around the mission of a simple pair of shoes.
Even though she had been incubating the idea for years, it took wings the day her business partner, mentor and friend George, walked into the brewery and asked her to share her dream. “He has absolutely changed my life and the path of my company.”
Learn more about Hannah, the shoes and the ambassador program and read some really entertaining blogs at bangsshoes.com. You can also follow BANGS Shoes on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Learn more about BANGS’ nonprofit partner at kiva.org.