March 8, 2021

10 questions with famed Alabama designer Billy Reid

3.8 min read

The Shoals may be best known for its legendary music scene, but the area also is home to another legend in the form of world-renowned fashion label Billy Reid. The eponymous brand is one marked by duality. Reid’s pieces are rugged but refined, relaxed but elegant, and sophisticatedly Southern. With 14 stores across the United States from New York and Chicago to Austin and D.C., Reid shows no signs of slowing down. We sat down with the celebrated designer to hear more about how he got into fashion and why he’s determined to build up Alabama’s creative community. 

How did Billy Reid come to be?  

The original notion to jump into designing my own collection was something that built up from not finding things I liked personally when shopping. Either the fabric, the fit, or the details in whatever piece I was trying to find wasn’t exactly what I liked. So, I launched William Reid in 1998 and was fortunate to have success with it. In 2001, the business fell victim to the 9/11 attacks. I had a runway show during NY Fashion Week on 9/10, the day before the terrorist attacks, and we never recovered from that impact on the business. So, we moved to Florence, Alabama, my wife’s hometown, to rebuild life. After a few very tough years, we launched Billy Reid in 2004, headquartered in Florence, and built the business back by opening our own retail shops.

Did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer?  

No. I started college as a PE major and flunked out. My mom had a clothing shop that was located in my grandmother’s old home, and she redirected me to study design at the Art Institute of Dallas.   

Where do you get your passion for creating? 

It’s really internal. I love to design and make things and see an idea through to the finished product.  

Where do you find inspiration for your craft?

For me, it’s not one particular thing.  It could be from architectural shapes, photography, art, people watching, subject research, travel—really whatever. I try to take it all in and see it through my own personal Southern lens.

How would you describe your personal style, and how does it compare to the style of the clothes you make?  

Uncomplicated, less is more, and I hold onto my favorite things. There’s not much separation [between the two], just more opportunity to express it.

Tell us about your dedication to creating community within your stores. Why is that an important initiative for you?   

It’s something I saw my parents do and something I’ve always believed in. When we arrived in the Shoals, the music heritage really turned me on and I believed if we got behind that creative energy and helped tell that story, that our community would rally behind it and benefit. Over the years, the creative and culinary fields have generously contributed their talents to helping us build our annual Shindig event. That really expresses our sense of community at its finest, and it has built a wonderful group of friends for our brand.

How has Billy Reid changed and evolved over the years?

The business has evolved as it has grown and requires more processes and logistics. But in many ways, such as hospitality, service, aesthetic, and commitment to quality, those things haven’t changed. 

How has your business changed in the last year through the pandemic?

We have had to make serious adjustments as our shops were shuttered for a few months and people aren’t on the street or traveling and that impacts sales. It’s forced us to amp up our digital and virtual initiatives and that has been a silver lining for sure as we’ve seen very strong results from those efforts.

What are your thoughts on the maker community in Alabama?

Alabama has a storied legacy as being a force of creativity. From the many artists discovered in our Black Belt, to the incredible musicians that recorded in Muscle Shoals, to the growing food community that is bustling in our state, there’s a spirit that’s present here—past, present, and future.

What are your plans for the future of Billy Reid? 

Remain resilient through the pandemic and come out even stronger. We plan to seek opportunities to spread our wings a bit in regard to lifestyle/home products and brand collaborations. We have such wonderful people working with us and keeping them inspired to continue the wonderful hospitality they give every day is always very important to us.

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