BANGS Shoes founder Hannah Davis mixes fashion, humanitarianism
Hannah Davis did not plan on becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, she wanted to go to medical school and even enrolled as a biology student at Clemson University. After a tough first course, the 25-year-old Columbia native quickly realized her career path would have to move in a different direction. That journey would take her to China and, eventually, the start of a business that would combine fashion and a social cause.
Davis, founder and president of BANGS Shoes, decided to study political science and thought about taking philosophy as a minor. But her dad encouraged her to take up Chinese, something radically different than she had planned.
Davis didn’t know it, but her professor in that particular subject would have a profound effect on her.
“I was so attracted to her. She represented something so different than I have ever known,” Davis said.
While associate professor Yanhua Zhang spoke fluent English, Davis was captivated by her appearance and dress. Even the way she counted to 10 was unique to Davis.
“I loved learning from her and learning about Chinese culture,” Davis said.
Davis said Zhang encouraged her to do participate in the school’s study-abroad program. Davis spent six weeks in China during her junior year, which led to her signing a contract to teach English in the Jiangsu province for one year after she graduated.
Davis said she did experience some culture shock being away from her close-knit family. At the same time, though, the experience allowed her to mature.
“I learned so much about myself. It was really difficult in a good way,” Davis said.
While teaching in China, she came across Chinese migrant workers and farmers who were wearing an olive green, army style shoe. That sparked the idea of putting together a shoe line that, according to BANGS Shoes’ motto, “connects individuals to positivity and works to influence social growth through retail.”
Davis said BANGS are a mix of a TOMS, Converse and Vans shoe. They are made of canvas with a rubber toe sole across the top.
“They’re super comfortable. I wear them all day everyday,” she said.
Davis knew what mission she wanted for the shoe company even before the name BANGS came about. She said she went through a number of names for the company, including using her grandmother’s or her dog’s name.
But it was the fact that BANGS is phonetically translated as “help” from the Chinese character that caught her eye.
“It was a name that could be pronounced by an American,” she said.
Davis says BANGS Shoes offers fashionable footwear for a cause. For every shoe sold, 20 percent of the profits are donated to several nonprofits. Each shoe color corresponds with a different nonprofit that Davis hand-selected to support.
Though she was influenced by TOMS footwear — a shoe company that donates a free pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair that is sold — she wanted to move beyond just charity.
“I wanted to invest in multiple causes that focus on empowerment,” Davis said. She said her mission is about “teaching people how to fish” instead of offering handouts.
Each of the nonprofits was chosen to represent real sustainable methods of development, Davis said. She said the targeted measures are “seemingly small but crucial” and that the ultimate goal is to put people in a position to make changes themselves.
“There’s no reason why we live on planet where there are disparities between the poorest of poor and the rich,” Davis said.
Davis also kept the company close to home, locating the headquarters in Charleston, S.C. BANGS also hires student ambassadors who help promote and sell the shoes and the mission. Student ambassadors are found on college campuses across the country, from as far as Syracuse and Kansas State to one right on the campus of USC.
Davis is wrapping up a two-month tour speaking at 23 colleges about BANGS Shoes and her mission to influence change through fashion and social cause.
Like the BANGS motto says, Davis wants her customers to “Stand On Issues.”