When Gabe Williams needs a reminder of why he left a cushy corporate job with Nike to become a sneaker entrepreneur, he just has to look down at his arm. From elbow to wrist stretches a dramatic rendering of a scrappy fighter facing a phalanx of armored soldiers led by a warrior wielding an axe. It’s a little David versus Goliath, and that’s the point. After all, Williams did name his company Davi, the Portuguese equivalent of David, and he is leading a four-person team into a multibillion-dollar market sector.
For Williams, the tattoo serves as a daily reminder to keep Davi moving forward, despite the challenges. To face down fears, to never settle. To live unselfishly and to look within for guidance. It’s heavy stuff for a sneaker company, but Davi always has been about more than sneakers. At its core, Davi is a community impact organization. Its goal is to partner with schools that serve underfunded communities, first in Fort Worth and later across the country, and to direct profits toward funding sports programs and art education.
In late August, the company officially launched, offering its first design, the Trinidad, for online preorder. The debut was a year in the making, with much of the planning and organizing taking place at a dining table in his grandmother’s home and, most recently, at the conference table in the back of Craftwork Coffee Co. on the city’s Near Southside. Now, Williams is ready to turn this first step into a major leap forward, both for his business and for the kids he aims to help.
Q: Why did you choose sneakers as the flagship product to effect change in underserved communities? Are you one of those self-described “sneakerheads” who collects coveted styles and brands?
A: I wouldn’t call myself a sneakerhead, but I would say I enjoy a nice sneaker! Sneakers are something I’ve always had a passion for. It’s something I know and understand from the years I spent working with Nike and from playing sports, so they seemed a logical conduit for what I wanted to do.
Q: In designing Davi’s debut sneaker, the Trinidad, did you rely on your own sense of style or did you check out what was trending, like what brands were hot or what celebrities and famous athletes were wearing?
A: I have purposely stayed away from all of that — I don’t want to be influenced by what anyone else is wearing. I don’t even follow any brands or influencers on my personal Instagram. I want the creative freedom to design what I like, to come up with my own ideas. My own style is very clean and modern, very minimal — minimal branding, very uniform-esque.
Q: That definitely seems to be the vibe you captured!
A: I wanted our shoe to be timeless, to be something you could wear with suit pants or with jeans with holes in them. We worked with an award-winning sneaker designer to create the shape and style, and then we adapted it for production.
Q: Were you involved in the construction of the shoe, too?
A: Yes. It was very important to us to use authentic, quality materials like 100 percent leather and 100 percent suede, even though the market is mostly using synthetics right now. We also put a soft lambskin lining on the heel so it’s really comfortable, and no one is doing that. Our shoes are also gender neutral. Who says what is a male color and a female color anymore? We just want to have good colors and let people go from there.
Q: Tell me about the colors.
A: The colors we have right now are chalk pink, a basic white, a black and an indigo, which is navy. Our next colors will be yucca, which is a mint green; desert sand, which is like a taupe; and fog, which is gray. We also have a burgundy with gold-tipped laces that we will offer for presale around the first of the year.
Q: Those white shoes look like a perfect canvas to bring in an artist to paint on them …
A: Which we are already working on! We are working on having some artists paint shoes that we can auction off to benefit our schools.
Q: Would you say the sneakers are appropriate for sports or are they more for every day, like athleisure sneakers?
A: More athleisure. We didn’t design them for sports; we designed them for the person who has grown up with sneakers and wants to continue wearing them every day.
Q: Where do you see Davi going, product-wise? Do you see clothing and accessories on the horizon?
A: We will definitely move to clothing, maybe in 2019. We will push three new silhouettes at the beginning of the year, and then we’re going into performance footwear, starting with a soccer cleat. It’s already been designed. We’d really like to target growing performance areas like lacrosse.
Q: If you could choose anyone to wear your sneakers, who would it be? Who is your dream Davi customer?
A: Tobe Nwigwe. He is an up-and-coming rapper in Houston who raps about things with positive meaning, not just about material gain.
Q: I know community impact is the driving force behind Davi, but what if people just buy your shoes because they like them? Are you OK with that?
A: Yes! I mean, I am not naïve — I would never buy something just because it’s a social enterprise. As much as I like to say I would, I still have to like the product. That’s our hope: To make a product that’s so amazing that people want it, regardless of our social mission. Because if no one wants it, we won’t be able to achieve that mission.