He started out with Nike. Now he’s launching a shoe brand that ‘builds people up’

Introducing the davi Trinidad: Former Nike director launches new company in Fort Worth

Gabe Williams, a former Nike director, has returned to Fort Worth to start his own shoe company, davi. The Trinidad is described as "a simple sneaker made with purpose for purpose."
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Gabe Williams, a former Nike director, has returned to Fort Worth to start his own shoe company, davi. The Trinidad is described as "a simple sneaker made with purpose for purpose."

Nike has grabbed world headlines in recent weeks for hiring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — the man at the center of the debate over kneeling during the national anthem — to appear in its advertisements.

But what about local impact?

During his four years working at Nike, Fort Worth native Gabe Williams says he always wanted the company to be more connected to the local communities where its shoes are sold.

About a year ago Williams left the Oregon-based sports fashion giant and moved back to Fort Worth, where he is now launching his own shoe company named davi (with a lower case d).

Williams, who said he oversaw $100 million in investment capital when he was with Nike, hopes davi becomes known not only for its simply-designed, everyday sneakers for men and women, but also for its philanthropy. He hopes to launch online sales early next year, and he plans to donate 5 percent of revenue to charities in the local communities where the customers live.

“I noticed we were selling sneakers to certain types of communities, and the communities reminded me of where I grew up on the Southside of Fort Worth,” Williams said, recalling his days at Nike. “What I started to ask myself is, what is the brand doing for the Southside of Fort Worth, and other communities like it? The answer is very little. There is a giant resource gap. What I hope to do is close the resource gap, and have a brand that actually builds people up.”

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For now, the graduate of North Crowley High School — who also has a master’s degree in business administration from Texas Christian University — has identified three Fort Worth nonprofits that will receive proceeds from his initial sales. They are Hope Farm, Young Women’s Leadership Academy and I.M. Terrell Academy’s music program.

He said he has already sold more than 460 pair of sneakers online through his Kickstarter campaign, which he launched last month to raise the initial funds to start the business.

Kickstarter participants who donated $99 or more will be sent a pair of the company’s first shoe model _ the Trinidad, a low-cut sneaker available in subtle colors, and with the conspicuous absence of a brand logo.

Williams hopes to have a full selection of footwear available for purchase online by early next year. He hasn’t made a final decision on the retail price for his Trinidad model of shoes, but estimates it will be in the $120-165 range. (They’re currently on sale for $99 through Kickstarter donations, although donors won’t receive their shoes until December or January.)

He plans to use a manufacturer in Vietnam. The shoes cost about $42 per pair to manufacture, he said.

“We traveled to Vietnam to figure out who we were going to go with,” Williams said. “We wanted to pick something that could be long-term. In China, the labor costs are becoming prohibitive for small brands. Vietnam is a place where labor costs are yet to increase too dramatically. We can get in now, and have a pretty long run of 10 to 15 years.”

He said he plans for the company to be completely transparent in its finances, and he will work out a way to donate proceeds to charities in the cities where his customers live.

Williams and a staff of three others at davi are currently doing much of their business from a co-working space at Craftwork Coffee on Magnolia Street. He hasn’t ruled out opening a brick-and-mortar store somewhere in Fort Worth in the near future.

In the mean time, he and his wife have moved into his grandmother’s home on the Southside.

So where did he come up with the name davi?

Williams says the name Davi is Portugese for David — as in the Biblical story of David and Goliath.

He views his company as the underdog — David.

“I wanted something representative of people second-guessing you and not thinking you have what it takes to step into an impossible moment,” he said.

Victor Neil, Hope Farm vice president of marketing and development, said he was impressed by Williams’ can-do spirit when he first met him at a business lunch months ago. But Neil acknowledged that breaking into a retail segment with competitors such as Adidas, New Balance and Under Armour will be “a huge hill to climb.”

“Everybody is doing lifestyle shoes. He’s going to get into some competition,” Neil said.

Any donations from davi would benefit Hope Farm’s athletic programs, which includes possibly buying new basketballs and buying new weight room equipment, Neil said.

“He’s talking about transparency, and he seems to have good folks on his team,” Neil said. “He felt like there was something empty about the corporate experience, and he wants to give something back.”

Community impact

As for Nike, founder Phil Knight is known for his charitable contributions. In 2016, he pledged $500 million to the University of Oregon for scientific research.

Also, the company operates the Nike Community Impact Fund, which since 2010 has awarded more than $4.5 million in grants to community efforts across the United States.

Challenges ahead

The first challenge for davi will be achieving mass name recognition, to compete with the many much larger and established companies, said Linda Mihalick, a University of North Texas faculty member.

“A quick internet search produced 58 existing sneaker brands, a number of them without celebrity or athletic endorsements attached. Many of these companies spend millions annually in their online and offline marketing efforts,” Mihalick, who is senior director of the UNT Global Digital Retailing Research Center, said in an email. “The next challenge will be the price point and the profit margin available to keep building the business, while also donating 5 percent of sales toward their cause. The initial shoes, made of all leather, are pricing between $99 and $165, which might initially be a challenge to achieve mass sales.”

Mihalick added that in recent years many start-up companies have begun with the dual purpose of selling their product while also generating donations for non-profit organizations.

“The challenge is that while the missions are genuine and well-intended, the foundation of these businesses is based on the premise that they are real, revenue-generating retail enterprises,” she said. “Therefore, they need to operate as such from design, production, fulfillment and customer service to be sustainable long term.”

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Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson