Shoes storm St. Vincent campus with Bangs
By Stacey Federoff
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Bright blue, red and green shoes may be on the feet of more students at St. Vincent College soon.
The colorful footwear, created by a 25-year-old Charleston, S.C., woman with the help of a St. Vincent alumnus, are called Bangs Shoes.
Hannah Davis founded the company after teaching English in China in 2009 and seeing many people wearing similar, simply styled working-class shoes.
She wanted to make her own version in the United States with global aid in mind and named the shoes after the phonetic spelling of the Mandarin word for “help.”
Davis then met George Derhofer, who graduated from St. Vincent in 1975, by chance in a restaurant where she was working as a server.
“If there was any kind of example next to the word ‘serendipity' in the dictionary, that would be it,” she said.
Derhofer and his wife, Gail, who graduated from Seton Hill University, struck up a conversation with Davis during the Valentine's Day meal last year and asked her to tell them something interesting about herself.
She told them of her idea for Bangs Shoes. Derhofer — a retired senior vice president with VF Corp., which manages apparel brands like North Face, Vans and Timberland — asked for her business plan.
“Hannah just seemed like a fascinating and amazing person,” Derhofer said. “Her heart is in the right place. She's doing this for the right reasons.”
Davis developed a decentralized way to sell the shoes on college campuses with 20 now participating, including Derhofer's alma mater.
Abby Geisel, a junior communications major from Schnecksville, leads the Bangs Shoes team on the Unity campus, where the shoes will be sold at the SpringFest Carnival from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
“They really foster a sense of community with the Benedictine values” of St. Vincent College, she said.
The shoes have a corresponding charity for each of the four colors: red supports disaster aid, green aids development, khaki backs hunger relief, and blue boosts clean water.
This summer, white shoes supporting financial independence and black shoes promoting U.S. education will also become available.
Geisel said she got involved with the company because of her interest in corporate social responsibility.
“People want to know the money they're spending on goods is going somewhere to help someone else,” she said.
The company has been very selective in the nonprofits with which it chooses to partner, Davis said, to make sure they foster real change with the motto: “Stand on issues to help others stand on their own.”
It makes a point to ensure that the working conditions where the shoes are made in China, the country that inspired them, are ethical, Davis said.
Derhofer said the aid is based on the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
“It's nice to give things away, but after they use them, how have their lives changed?” he asked. “My sincere hope is that we can grow ... to do a whole lot of good for people.”
Geisel said she has three pairs of Bangs and often wears her green sneakers to match her St. Vincent green and gold.
After the carnival, the shoes will be available from St. Vincent team members, online at bangsshoes.com and at 15 locations on the East Coast, but none in Pennsylvania yet, Davis said.
The carnival, sponsored by the Student Government Association and attended annually by children and parents from surrounding communities, features more than 30 booths for student organizations.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or email@example.com.
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