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I’m in Chicago. My Grandfather turned 93 this week.
Every year for the past three years, my extended family has come together to celebrate his life, and every year like clockwork he insists the event is not about him.
Of course, he says, the reason 28 family members from four generations flock to the city is to just be together. And coincidentally it is his birthday.
Papa is an eye doctor, an Optometrist, and still works 4 days a week at the practice he started in 1946.
Yes. That is correct.
Four of the seven days the week Papa turned 93, his bedside radio started talking at 7:30am. He got up, put on a suit, gathered his brown leather briefcase, and went to work at his practice.
Papa started Davis Eye Care at 24 years old. He’s been building and sustaining his business for a whopping 69 years.
Coincidentally BANGS has been in business since I was 24 years old, a whopping three years. So it would seem we have some big shoes to fill. (Ba-da-bing!)
Papa is internationally revered in the eye world. This past year in Charleston, South Carolina I watched him receive yet another prestigious award to add to his collection. After he walked back to his seat, he leaned over to whisper that he was the recipient primarily as a matter of longevity.
He’s been alive longer than everyone else! Of course he’s done more!
I didn’t know how to respond as he casually brushed aside his career’s worth of contributions to eye care and the tens of thousands of patients he’s helped to see the world around them.
So I just smiled and assumed he reads eyes well enough to know that I wasn’t buying it.
Papa is humble, yes, but more notably he is an incredible storyteller. It’s my favorite part of his magic.
He can turn any story into a thrilling tale. There’s always a punch line.
You can tell when it’s going to be a good one because of the way Papa re-situates his upper body. His arms cross and he slightly leans back mentally preparing his inevitably seamless delivery.
Papa still lives in the house where my Dad grew up. And from the images I’ve seen, the house looks largely the same.
I stayed with Papa my first night in Chicago. I slept in my Aunt’s old bedroom, and still have shag carpet clung to my black skinny jeans to prove it.
Maga, Papa’s wife, was the decorator. She died before I was born.
Maga was also a storyteller, a talented entertainer who could tap dance, sing, and charm entire rooms full of people. It’s incredible to hear stories about her because no matter who it’s from – family, friends, Papa’s longtime colleagues – the stories share the same theme.
Everybody loved Maga.
Her warm energy, charisma, and zest for life oozed out of her every move. You couldn’t help but feel special around her. My Dad says it’s his life’s greatest tragedy that his children do not get to know her.
Maga and Papa inevitably bred a large group of extraverts. So when we’re together, we’re a rowdy bunch.
On Saturday my cousin brought her boyfriend to Papa’s party to meet the extended family for the first time. As we locked eyes and shook hands I said, “You’re brave.”
I opened an email from Papa a couple months before his party this year. It was addressed to “My Favorite Grandchild”.
I was incredibly pleased with myself until I noticed the 12 email addresses of every single one of my siblings and cousins visible at the top of the webpage.
The email was an official request that each of us prepare a 5 minute speech for his birthday party. Papa encouraged us to take this time and share our accomplishments from the past year.
On Saturday after dinner had been chomped down, Papa took the microphone at the head of our long rectangular table and launched the evening with a story about one of his first patients, Sophie.
Sophie clocked in around 250 pounds with large circles of rouge on her round cheeks and lipstick smeared in a peach line across her lips.
In the hallways of Davis Eye Care one evening, Sophie cornered my Papa and pleaded with him to “Kiss me baby! Kiss me baby!!!” His response: “You don’t want to do this. You. Don’t. Want. To. Do. This!!!!” Over and over again.
Sophie tried swooning Papa inside his very first office building, the one with an oil burning stove where he worked 80+ hour a week to bring home $10 a week… for years. But of course these are details. Sophie’s desperate admiration was the highlight of Papa’s 5 minutes.
Papa arranged the grandchild mini-speeches chronologically so my older cousins and siblings took the floor first.
When it was my turn, I stood up and talked about how we’re updating our manufacturing process from a calendar sole to a molded sole.
Seriously. That is what I chose to share.
Like an imbecile, I missed a unique opportunity to say thank you.
I should have thanked my cousins for rocking our shoes years before we could have fathomed our recent momentum. I should have acknowledged the endless support from my Aunts and Uncles, always asking how the company is doing and challenging me to think critically.
“You can’t build a website and expect people to just show up”, I remember my Uncle saying. And ohhhh how right he was.
I should have thanked my parents for telling me for twenty years to reach for the stars and that I really can change the world if I try.
I should have reminded my siblings that their unwavering (blind and biased) love is my most important fuel. I could not do this without them.
And I should have thanked my Papa. He helped pave the road for our family and showed me what hard work looks like.
It’s loyalty and patience, awareness and courage. Papa has showed me that hard work is perseverance, curiosity, and the willingness to stay positive in the darkest situation. It’s being tough but kind, and honest. Always honest.
I used to joke with my Mom that if just our family bought BANGS – we would be ok. But there is actually truth in that.
My family’s feet were first to hit the pavement with BANGS Shoes. Their small group of email addresses were our mailing list years before we could reach thousands of people with one click.
BANGS Shoes was built on family.
And if family is measured in support, loyalty and love – the growth of my company proves that the BANGS family now extends well beyond blood.
Business partners, friends, Ambassadors, retailers, Professors, childhood neighbors. The list of people who have helped bring our vision to life would be too long to name, and it only keeps growing.
But I won’t miss an opportunity to say thank you again.
So to this family, we are an intricate web of people. Some bound by blood and marriage, some bound by time and shared experience.
To all of you: thank you.
Family has brought the BANGS vision to reality. And I can’t wait to see what we do next.
Until next time,
I parked my car at The Battery in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
The Battery was about a mile from the restaurant where I worked. Parking was free, and I enjoyed the colorful walk and salty air along the waterfront. Multi-million dollar homes lined the left side of the street and waves from the Atlantic ocean kissed the concrete barrier on the right.
Charleston was my refresh button after a year in China.
I had graduated from University into one of the worst recessions our country had ever seen. Four years of studying Political Science encouraged visions of law school and affecting world policies, but the job market in the US was arguably nonexistent.
So I decided to outsource myself and signed a one-year contract teaching English in China.
By the end of the contract, I had come up with the idea to start a shoe company. There were just a couple of problems.
I had never seen a business plan, hadn’t the slightest idea how things like international shipping and manufacturing worked, and just generally had no idea what I was doing.
So at twenty-three years old, a newly self-proclaimed business woman, I was thrilled to accept a job greeting and seating tourists at Southend Brewery and Smokehouse in downtown Charleston while I figured out what it meant to “be in business”.
At SoutheEnd I worked alongside a smart crew. Three of my co-workers had graduated from law school, passed The Bar, and were searching for law-related jobs that would make a noticeable dent in their loans. It was near impossible to start a career in 2011, but the Charleston food and beverage (F&B) industry made everything a little easier.
Foodies traveled from all over the world for the Charleston restaurant scene so the human labor required to run it was big and cult-like. The Charleston F&B crew were charming, tan and unquestionably had each others’ backs regardless of the restaurant that employed you.
They also knew how to party.
We would hit the beach a couple days a week, work a hand-full of shifts, and leave with cash in-hand to spend on drinks heavily discounted by your F&B brethren. Repeat.
SouthEnd was inside a 16th century haunted warehouse that doubled as a stop on the Charleston City Ghost Tour. The building had three floors, a huge brew tank up the center where we brewed our own delicious beer, a patio out front that sat on tourist East Bay Street, and had two bars: one on the first floor and one on the third. The second floor was reserved for private parties, kitchen preparations, and making out with your boyfriend.
The main kitchen was on the first floor and uniquely part of the dining experience. This meant that if you were seated in the back half of the dining room, you could watch our chefs from the chest up prepare your meal from an open line.
Having a main kitchen on the first floor also meant that if you were working on the second, and heaven forbid third floor, you were forced to walk up the long warehouse flights of stairs balancing full trays of food between your shoulder and up-turned palm. There was an elevator, but it was unreliable and painfully slow so if we were busy hiking up those stairs was the only real option.
The food was good. I was three years into being a Vegetarian so a Smokehouse menu of mostly meat wasn’t incredibly enticing, but the brick-oven margarita pizza and thick macaroni and cheese unquestionably made by a Southern chef were unstoppable.
In the summer SouthEnd had live music every Wednesday and Saturday. In a shocking turn of events, every Saturday at midnight the entire front half of the restaurant’s tables were moved to make way for our weekly salsa night.
I stayed for salsa night a couple times after my shift ended to see who actually attended salsa night at a Smokehouse. I can assure you it was traditionally-talented salsa dancers. Sequins, stilettos, and all.
I tried a couple moves with my Tequila courage, had a blast, and am sure I looked like an idiot swerving my hips in my work uniform of khaki pants, a button down shirt, and black Crocs.
The front of the house employed five hostesses, thirteen serves, two bus boys, six bartenders, and four mangers. The back of the house was just as big.
We had quite a crew.
Employee turnover at SouthEnd was high, but if you stayed on staff longer than three-four months you became part of a very loving, very dysfunctional family. Of course there were cliques, there always are, but when it really mattered at SouthEnd, we were all on the crazy ride together.
We hung out at the beach and at each others’ houses. We loved the young, beautiful babies our co-workers had. I openly talked about the idea I had for a business even though I had absolutely nothing to back it up: no website, no business cards, and most importantly no shoes.
And yet I felt incredibly supported.
Until next time,
#live by @amandasunnyside
#live by @ncgibbs
All the kitties love me.
That cat is so #liveBANGS
#live by @sashalexandria
The silence was painful.
I sat in an open, empty conference room in Guangzhou, China that spanned the entire first floor of the building. I was waiting for the decision that would determine the future of my company.
I had never put this much energy into anything, optionally and with full commitment that is. This was everything to me. In fact, it was me.
Failure of this company would mean I was a failure.
The white wall across from me had groups of small linear shelves that showcased samples from internationally recognized brands like Levi, Ralph Loren, and TOMS. This was not a small factory. Yet I only sat in that conference room because they had refused our most recent order.
They manufactured hundreds of millions of the world’s shoes each year with an assembly line that could pump out 2,500 pairs of shoes in one day. We only needed a few thousand pairs to last us through one year, a couple days of production for them.
Our order was too small they said, too much of a hassle.
They had hoped our growth would have been faster and we would now be placing orders in the tens of thousands of pairs. We were paying customers that were losing them money. But we had no other manufacturing options and if my company was going to stay alive, I needed shoes. And I needed them now.
So I sat in the empty conference room and waited.
A small middle-aged woman wearing an apron appeared. I had been seconds away from dramatically deciding that starting a shoe company was too difficult and I would sell everything I had to live in the desert and re-assess my place in this chaotic, cruel world.
The woman smiled and offered me a cup of hot tea.
“Bu yoa xie.”, I replied in Mandarin. No thank you.
I had just eaten about fifteen fun-sized milk chocolate Dove bars and couldn’t imagine adding one more thing to my stomach. As I hid the empty wrappers in the front pocket of my red-canvas backpack, I tried to assure myself, “You’re an adult. You can do this.”
It was the summer of 2014 which meant two things: I was twenty-six years old and it was monsoon season in China.
I had worked three types of jobs in my life, hostess turned waitress turned bartender. English teacher in China turned CEO. I felt like a fraud.
The dark sky and howling wind didn’t ease the overwhelming dread and jet lag that seemed to get worse with time. The only thing that kept me sane was access to free chocolate bars and the knowledge that George and his wife lay awake in New Jersey, ignoring the twelve hour time-zone difference that meant they should absolutely be asleep, and instead patiently waited for my call from the other side the world.
Until next time,
Taken by @coreywolfenbarger” by @828isgreat on Instagram http://ift.tt/1VOAcRx
“We’re working on a new video! It’s been a really exciting project, and it will give you more glimpses of the process and people behind our footwear. We can’t wait to share it with you. In the mean time here’s a behind the scenes shot of Mutia chatting with Rani from the checking division (last step in the production process). #Indosole #TiresToSoles #SolesWithSoul #ResponsiblyMade” by @indosole on Instagram http://ift.tt/1ODk0lC