We're here to highlight the best and brightest innovators in Asheville, North Carolina!
When I meet Hannah Davis at her favorite West Asheville coffee shop, I'm immediately struck by her uplifting energy and her youthfulness. Not yet 30, Hannah has already founded a successful business: BANGS Shoes.
Even if you're not familiar with BANGS, you'll still be familiar with the business model. BANGS creates simple canvas shoes that are awfully nice to look at, and they donate a portion of their profits to Kiva, a microfinance-oriented non-profit that funds projects internationally. Davis started BANGS with the vision of giving back: according to her, this vision came before the product itself. At the heart, BANGS is about connecting people to help them build something--helping to start a relationship with the end goal of financing a business.
The idea for the actual product came while she was teaching English in China, when she noticed the simple, clean style of a typical canvas shoe worn by workers. But Davis struggled to situate her altruistic tendencies in a business model.Source: Instagram
"I realized there was a difference between a consumer of a business and a donor to a charity," says Davis, "because the consumer wants a product that's good and well-made in the end, whereas the donor is more interested in the altruistic side of things, in giving money but not necessarily caring about having a good end product."
When she realized that difference, "I almost quit," she says. "Because what I was really interested in was how this was going to impact the people the money was going to. I had to start thinking more along the lines of a business. I had to create a great product."
Once she got over that hurdle, she figured out her primary (but by no means exclusive) audience: she would be speaking to people like herself, members of the much-misunderstood millennial generation. "Luxury for people our age isn't about having a lot of money in your wallet," she says. "It's about being able to travel." And what signifies globe-trekking more clearly than a pair of comfortable, stylish shoes that can take you places?
This approach not only applies to her customers, but also to her workforce. BANGS exists entirely online, and most everything from design to production is outsourced, which means people can work remotely, from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. It's a new kind of business model that has been picking up steam for a generation that often prefers lifestyle and location to a guarantee of income from a 9-to-5 office environment.
It's also a model that Davis is always evolving. After a year in business she made the decision to move her shoes out of physical stores and onto the BANGS website, where all sales are now done, and business has been booming ever since.
For Davis, Asheville was just another part of this equation. She moved here from Bushwick in Brooklyn about a year and a half ago. "I appreciated the feeling that the amount of time you put into your job wasn't the most important things for people who live here," she said. "In NYC, people work until 10 pm and brag about it. They brag about staying and sleeping at work. Here, I got a lot of questions about things other than work, like, 'When did you last get outside?', 'What did you do when you were there?', 'What breweries have you been to?' It was such a different feel.