Interview: William Bradley

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When I first met Brad Parnell and Rodney Jones, founders and partners of William Bradley, they were running through the presentation of their Fall 2016 collection at the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Fashion shows are no joke when you’re behind the scenes – between makeup, models, and last minute changes, the atmosphere can be stressful. However, Brad and Rodney were a different story. They greeted me and the Stylesmith team warmly, shared jokes, and constantly checked in on us, even though we were there to help. It was obvious that Brad and Rodney were not only excited and proud of their collection, but also ecstatic about their brand as a whole.

William Bradley, located in Los Angeles, California, has come a long way from their roots in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The brand is dedicated to making a statement with its eco-conscious production practice, including being manufactured in Los Angeles. We talked to Brad about why he loves his job so much and what William Bradley has planned for its future.

How did you get your start?
You just have to start! I was fresh out of design school and knew I wanted to say something – anything – with fashion. I had wild aspirations of becoming the next fashion superstar and had no idea what I was in for over the coming years. I thought, “Hey, I’m going to create this collection, we’re going to take it to the Atlanta Apparel Mart, and we’re going to write so many orders that we’re not even going to know how to handle the volume and be on our way to the life we knew we wanted.” Needless to say – that did not happen, not even in the slightest. Although little has changed with what I see the brand becoming, I simply know now that dreams don’t always come true overnight – and that’s okay. You have to work through endless amounts of hours for what you believe in and how you see the future of your industry. You have to put yourself out there and hope that maybe, just maybe, you can gain a following. The difference between the me fresh out of design school and the me now is that when that following catches up to me, I’m ready because of the work and experiences I have done and had up until now.

What’s your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part of my job is creating. I’ve always got a high – a rush – from taking an idea from nothing and bringing it to life. The intimacy of the relationship that my creations get to have with my clients and customers is one of the closest that we have. Our wardrobe is our second skin. It can comfort us and also make us the biggest badass in the room, and is a relationship I am honored to be apart of with my designs.

What’s a normal day at the office?
Coffee – no good day can begin without it. Then I’m on to emails in the morning, but they consistently come in throughout the day so this becomes an ongoing process. Then, the rest of the day can branch off into a plethora of different directions depending on where we are in our brand calendar. I could be researching the next season, designing and sketching – you know, the fun stuff – or in fittings perfecting the exact shapes and proportions I want for the upcoming line. I may be doing product shots for our website, brainstorming how the lookbook should feel, developing sales strategies, or working with our factory on finishings. Sometimes, I might even just take the day to explore this beautiful world we live in and let every person I see become my muse for the day. I have a very hands on approach, and it seems to work for us.

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What practices make William Bradley different?
In the world we live in today, everyone is constantly having to attempt to reinvent the wheel without changing its shape to stand out from the next guy. For us, we want our customers to feel like family – like a friend who is borrowing clothes from our closet. The way we want to do this is also what makes us different. Instead of our product creating more fashion waste in the world, we want to offer our quality products only to and for those that intend to wear it. We want to only produce our designs if there is specific closet and home its going to. This is a more sustainable practice that not only helps our small business, but helps our planet – this way, every single William Bradley piece that is produced will be worn and used instead of sitting on a sales floor or in a merchandise closet. We understand this could be a challenge with how everyone’s mentality is based around the “I want it, and I want it now” movement, but this is an issue that we are passionate about – and really, waiting one week for a product to ship versus it shipping tomorrow isn’t a huge deal when you’re adding thousands of years to our planet’s life.

What made you want to manufacture domestically?
Control. We want to be able to control every aspect that our customers take away from their experience with a William Bradley design. We can oversee our manufacturing process and make sure the products are meeting our expectations on a much more regular basis than if the product was being manufactured in another country. We can control the working conditions of factories we choose to work with and make sure that everyone in our supply chain is receiving a fair and livable wage.

How important is it to you to be eco-conscious in your office? Production?
As stated above, being eco-conscious about how much fashion waste is on our hands is very important to us. It is an issue that will continue to be an ongoing topic of discussion as we move into the future.

Do you have any plans to use more sustainable materials?
As of now, we are more focused on lessening our fashion waste by only producing goods once they are ordered instead of producing huge amounts with the risk that it may or may not ever serve a purpose in someone’s life. However, we are not closed off to using more sustainable materials and know as fashion changes we are willing to change with it.

William Bradley RTW Fall 2016
William Bradley RTW Fall 2016, by Katie Jones for WWD.

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened while on the job?
I think one of the most hilarious things that has ever happened was at this year’s FW16 showing at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. After the model’s walked their first looks, most of them had to come back, make a lightning round quick change and be back in line to present the back half of the show. I’m pacing the show by telling each girl when to go and I turn to let the next girl know it’s her turn and NOBODY WAS THERE! Of course, I freak out and run into the back looking for the victim and see that she is still in look #1 and hasn’t even began to change into her second look. I yell across the room, half trying to understand why the hell she isn’t changing and half not caring what the problem is – but definitely wanting SOMEONE to just handle it as I made the decision to just push another girl out the door knowing that would give me another 20 seconds to get this girl out of what she was wearing and into the next look. She makes her way over to me looking completely confused, in what feels like the longest room crossing of my life and simply says, “I think my skirt zipper is stuck.” I push another girl out the door and immediately scream, “Well why doesn’t someone just “RIP IT,” as I proceed to pop the zipper and strip tease this terrified model. “GET OUT OF IT!”

It was so frustrating because I was having to sacrifice the order and the stories I had created within the showing for this one. stupid. zipper. But now this is one of the more hilarious events to happen backstage since we started this thing. I’m happy to announce that no models were harmed either mentally or physically during these shenanigans. It also helps too that nobody in the audience ever knew anything happened. But you do now – when life serves you a bad zipper – just strip!

If you could have any other job, what would it be?
Easy – a writer/composer/daydreamer!

What do you have planned for your next collection?
The next collection for us will be Spring | Summer 2017 – it’s a work in progress but will continue down the thought processes that we showed for fall. There will be a continued ease about the clothes that’s both complex and simple, but never fussy. I’ve found where William Bradley lives and where I live within its story and am excited to continue to share the journey with anyone and everyone who will listen. With that being said, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter… Maybe even lookout to subscribe to our channel on YouTube.

Visit the William Bradley page now.

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