In 1996, Issaquah native Billy Price fell from a third-story window, breaking his back and neck. Price, who was 18 years old at the time, was left paralyzed from the chest down. The dexterity in his arms and hands was compromised, and he had to use a wheelchair.
Price was uninterested in adaptive products designed to make completing simple tasks easier. Though putting on and tying shoes was difficult, Price objected on fashion grounds to shoes specially made for people with physical disabilities. “The last thing someone would want to wear is something that screams ‘adaptive,'” he said. “You want to wear a shoe just like everybody else, so why not make a shoe that works for everybody? When you do that, you really tear down that wall between adaptive and non-adaptive clothing.”
Seeking more attractive footwear, price bought a slip-on shoe and began fashioning an alternative. He cut along the top panel of the shoe to make a bigger opening for his foot. A zipper was used to secure the tongue to the shoe.
“Ever since that moment, it was, ‘We gotta move forward with this,'” Price said. “Yes, I was overcoming my own challenge, but as soon as I put my foot in the shoe, there was a bit of an ah-ha moment where it became very apparent that the shoe could not just be considered an adaptive shoe.”
Price decided to sell the shoes under the Billy Footwear brand. His shoes have adaptive qualities to them, but with a molded foot bed and traditional rubber sole in trendy fabrics and colors, the shoes are functional for every demographic. Price launched a Kickstarter campaign on April 12 with the goal to raise $30,000. More than 200 backers have since supported the project with $32,763. Shoes ordered during the campaign will begin shipping in late June.
“Kickstarter really is just the starting point,” Price said. He’s busy discussing retail partnerships, as well as developing more shoes and sizes for spring 2017.
A percentage of Billy Footwear income will support a parallel nonprofit called Billy Cares. The philanthropy directs spending toward conservation, arts, and medical-research causes, as well as the development of niche products and education.
“There are endless ways we can go with this structure, and just about every give-back-type effort can fall under at least one of these five pillars,” Price said. “Sorting out what we want to include in Billy Cares is a big step.”