Walking into Billy Price’s Capitol Hill condo, you notice the exceptional view of downtown, the plush lounge chair perfect for brainstorming startup dreams, and Price himself, a quadriplegic. Drawing less attention are his leather Oxford shoes with a subtle zipper around the toe. Price, who became quadriplegic after a 1996 accident that occurred during his first week at the University of Washington, has enough dexterity to dress himself, but shoes have been a challenge. His solution? Billy Footwear. “The root problem was not being able to tie laces and having to shove my foot into the shoe,” says Price. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he approached the problem methodically. His goal was a shoe that didn’t use a Velcro closure, the hallmark of “adaptive” footwear, and that was fashionable enough that anyone might want to wear it. “I bought a tiny shoe, cut it open, put a zipper on it, and it worked,” he says of his design process. The zipper doesn’t require the dexterity of laces, and the design opens the shoe in a way that makes it easy to slide a foot into. He and business partner Darin Donaldson have created an attractive line of shoes (at billyfootwear.com) that anyone might choose to wear. His next goal is getting Billy Footwear into stores. “When you get knocked down, your life is not over,” says the resilient entrepreneur. He adds, “People look at our shoes and say, ‘I can’t believe someone hasn’t come up with this already.’”
NEED TO KNOW
Price’s first creation, an adaptive ski glove (he’s a sit-skier), came to life with the help of Pearl Jam, which donated use of its “Given to Fly” tune for the glove’s Kickstarter campaign video. (Find the glove at getbillysgoat.com.)
Billy Footwear was featured on Quit Your Day Job on the Oxygen channel last April.
There are seven styles available for men, women and kids, including the kids’ green “Billy Club Ranger,” women’s chevron high top and men’s black casual loafer. Prices range from $50 to $110.