by Tracy Weissenberg
When you enter the Willis & Walker Atlanta showroom, you immediately notice the details. The room is made to welcome the customer, make him feel as if he is in his own domain, ready to purchase clothing especially tailored for him.
NBA veteran and former Hawks star Kevin Willis, who studied fashion and textiles at Michigan State, founded the company in 1988 with his college friend Ralph Walker. “Being seven foot, and not being able to go anywhere and buy anything. We weren’t even talking about fashion back then, as far as that sense of style, we just wanted something that we could put on and look halfway decent,” says Willis.
The first product was leather jackets, made after an impromptu trip to New York to buy the leather, which was then sewn by another friend. After seeing people’s reaction to the jackets, Willis and Walker took note of the immediate demand and recognized their potential niche. The company gradually expanded to suits, and in 2003, launched the denim line. Willis now solely runs the company with partners in New York, and talks about the brand’s evolution, saying, “Now it’s more of a lifestyle collection. It’s everything that a man can wear. From outerwear, to knits, wovens, suits, jeans, twill pants, leather, headwear, t-shirts, all of that.”
While one might wonder the steps a professional basketball player took to fully absorb and ingratiate himself within the world of fashion, he did what most other passionate and enthusiastic people out of college do: Internships.
Asked to describe his style, Willis uses the phrase “dynamic elegance” and “simple, classic, modern.” It is the same philosophy he has extended to his brand. And from the showroom, to the collection, Willis’ work is in the details. As he points out, even the company’s logo hints at the shape of a basketball going through a net. While unintentional, it could not be more fitting to reflect the merging passions of the former NBA All-Star. (more…)