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Dressed for success
Clothier aims for exclusive business designs
 
Published Thursday, January 10, 2013 8:16 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

 

Some people believe in the notion that failure is not an option. William Wilson, owner of William Wilson’s Clothing, is not one of them.

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PHOTO/CALVIN FERGUSON
Clothier William Wilson has designed clothes for clients to wear to the Oscars, the NFL and NBA drafts and the Grammy Awards.


“Failure is always an option,” he said. “In fact, failure is a pretty distinct possibility.”


It was definitely a possibility for Wilson when he launched his business in November 2008.


“It was two days after the election,” he recalls. “The nation had lost 750,000 jobs that month. The stock market was crashing, and the economy was spiraling out of control.


“People thought I was crazy to start a very exclusive and expensive clothing company catering to business people while people were losing jobs,” said Wilson. “But here we are four years later.”


Small town, big motivation
Wilson grew up in Gregory, Ark., watching shows like “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Falcon Crest,” and “Knots Landing.”


“You would see these guys in these big offices with a view of the city behind them having power meetings all day,” he said. “I always wanted to be ‘that guy’ when I grew up.”


For Wilson, becoming “that guy” was more than an aspiration to be like some character on TV. Other incidents in his childhood motivated him to succeed as well.

“I grew up seeing my mom be a victim of domestic violence,” he said. “I remember crying myself to sleep one night, and making myself a promise that I would grow up to be the type of man my mother could be proud of. That was a big motivation for me.”


Domestic violence remains a cause that is dear to Wilson’s heart.


“I know what it’s like to be that powerless kid seeing someone you love go through something like that and not being able to do anything about it,” he said.


Wilson founded a philanthropic organization, William Wilson Foundation, which raises money for families impacted by domestic violence.
“I feel that God blesses us to be a blessing to other people so I give,” he said. “If you are not giving back to the community then you are robbing it.”


Accidental success
When Wilson moved to Charlotte in 1998, launching a clothing line was the farthest thing from his mind.


He had just left the Navy and was considering his next move. He came to town to visit friends and fell in love with the area.


“The people here are friendly,” he said. “There (were) plenty of jobs and plenty of money. Plus, women outnumbered men like 6 to 1. As a single guy, that was the perfect trifecta for me.”


His first job after moving was managing a Waffle House restaurant. He was then hired as a claims adjuster for a local insurance agency. That’s when he realized corporate America was not the right fit for him.


“I’m just not built to be inside,” he said. “That was torture.”


He began working in construction and worked for two different companies before opening his own company, which specialized in high-end residential custom framing on houses that were 8,000 square feet and larger.


Running his own construction company gave Wilson flexibility and freedom. He rose early to make his rounds, checking in on the guys at each site before allowing his lead crewmen to take over.


“My work day was usually complete by 8:30 a.m.,” he said.


He spent the rest of his days playing golf or going to business meetings. At the time, he still did not know a lot of people in Charlotte so he said he’d find any kind of meeting he could attend and go.
He always wore a suit.


“I realized that when you are wearing a suit, people treat you differently,” he said. They also take notice.


One day, the owner of a house Wilson was working on approached him.


“He told me that he liked the way I dressed and asked if I could help him out with his closet,” said Wilson. “That’s the way it all started.”


Wilson helped the client put together a few suits. Soon he found himself helping other business executives and building a strong reputation by word of mouth. When the Great Recession hit, the construction business took a dive, and Wilson decided to make fashion his fulltime career.


Full speed ahead
Several months later, Wilson received a call from R&B singer Calvin Richardson. He wanted him to design a suit for the 2010 Grammy Awards that were 13 days away.


It was a quick turnaround that initially made Wilson a little nervous. It didn’t help that Richardson was on the road and would not be returning to Charlotte until the following week. But it was one opportunity Wilson could not afford to pass up.

Richardson called him after the award show to say that his suit had won “Best Dressed on the Red Carpet.”

“I was thinking stuff like this doesn’t happen,” said Wilson. “This is what happens to people wearing Armani and Prada or Gucci suits. It doesn’t happen for some country boy from Arkansas, but it all happened.”

In the past two years, Wilson has designed outfits for the Oscars, NASCAR Awards, NFL and NBA drafts. In 2011, he designed the inaugural champion’s jacket for the Coca-Cola 600 and Bank of America 500 NASCAR races. In 2012, he was selected to design the champion’s jacket for the winner of the Chiquita Classic.


Brand of exclusivity
There are approximately 1.6 million people in the Charlotte metro area, but Wilson only wants a small percentage as clients.

“I only want 150 people,” he said. “My business model is based on exclusivity. It’s not based on mass sales.”

Wilson, whose suits begin at $1,500, said he only accepts five new clients a month. On average, his waiting list is three months long. He is looking to make his brand even more exclusive by rolling out a new signature collection of suits that will cost $10,000 to $12,000. The collection will be limited to 26 suits a year made from 72 different fabrics.

“It’s literally going to be the most exclusive set of suits in America,” Wilson said.

Some of the best advice that he’s ever received in business is that “broke people give broke advice.”

“Check your cell phone,” he said. “If everyone on your contact list is broke, then that’s your future,” he said. “You should always have people in your life that are doing better than you.”

 

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