A little over five years ago on a family vacation, I walked into a quaint-looking store called Billy Reid on King St. in Charleston. Little did I know that five years later I would be listening to, questioning, and conversing with the designer that started it all.
Billy Reid began his career slightly differently than most other designers.
With a lifelong love of sports, Reid majored in physical education with the goal of becoming a coach. After flunking out of school for P.E., his mother encouraged him to pursue fashion, because it was the family business. In his case, it became much more than that.
Reid started his business in 1998. With only two accounts, his company, like many, struggled in its first years. By his second and third years in the industry, Reid had attracted more than 35 accounts, and his business was steadily growing.
But he wasn’t satisfied.
After becoming increasingly bothered by how much creative control buyers had over the design process, Reid made the bold decision to stop selling to bigger accounts and focus on a more personal design, production and shopping experience by opening his own stores. He wanted full control creatively and wanted his products to speak to his personal beliefs and experiences as a designer from Louisiana.
As Reid spoke to crowd of students at SCADstyle 2017, he consistently stated that he wants his brand to be personal and promote a sense of community. The furniture in all of the Billy Reid stores came from his home.
Another part of that personal touch was the creation of a now three-day event called “Shindig” that brings the community together for music, food and fellowship in Florence, Alabama, where Reid’s business is headquartered. He believes that fashion and food – really, anything creative – have the power to bring like-minded people together.
An audience member asked about how Billy was able to collaborate and work with other designers but still stay consistent with his brand’s aesthetic. He answered that f the collaboration was right, then he’d do it, but if not, he wouldn’t.
“Doing a collaboration for money is bullsh*t,” said Reid.
When asked about his brand, Billy had extremely clear answers on the driving factors behind his process, inspirations and collections, but when asked about the future of the fashion industry, he was sure of only one thing: “it needs to change,” said Reid.
Traditional fashion shows still work because they drive the energy for the collection and draw people in. However, since adopting a more non-traditional show atmosphere, Reid said that he has experienced immense success.
Known throughout the South, Reid said he’s often pegged as a more traditional, regional designer. But Reid casts that notion aside, pointing out that he can walk into a coffee shop in Italy, a hotel in New York or a store in Alabama and people will be wearing the same thing. We all need essentials, he said. Fashion isn’t regional.
Like many designers speaking at SCADstyle, Reid gave young designers going out into the industry some advice: Your first job might not be your dream job. In most cases it won’t be, but it’s important to remain open-minded, and get yourself into a situation where you can continue to grow as a designer, and also as a citizen.
Reid said the key is to get a foot in the door; stay on the straight and narrow, and go the extra mile. He closed with this: “Don’t give up.”
Written by Madison Mallard
Photos by Angie Stong