As fascinated as we are with the future, our hearts lie in the past. Old movies, books and vintage photographs are places we go to connect.
I found a connection in a pair of original World War II khakis I found at an Army surplus store while I was in college. They were remarkably comfortable, deep pocketed, and put together to withstand just about anything. Today’s khakis paled in comparison. “We could put a man on the moon, but couldn’t make khakis like we did 50 years ago,” I thought. Someone had to save this small but symbolic piece of Americana.
The idea of starting a company that captured and celebrated the American ideal took on such great philosophical importance to me that I quit my advertising job in Chicago and moved home to Reading, Pennsylvania to start Bills Khakis. The year was 1990.
With a few thousand dollars and a dozen or so part time jobs (including greens crew, painting a covered bridge, ski lift operator, sporting goods salesman, freelance writer, and rock & roll band promoter), the business slowly grew from a “trunk of the car” start-up to a full time enterprise.
Today, thanks to the hard work of 20 devoted employees, and many others, Bills Khakis can be found throughout the United States at over 500 select men’s specialty stores. All products, including pants, shorts, jeans, shirts and jackets are produced in the United States.
Bills Khakis makes its home in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania in a renovated warehouse building that was once home to the Reading Hardware Company and now appears on the National Historic Register. Bills Khakis chooses to locate here to serve as an example that a 21st century business can still compete in a city that was built on a 20th century economy. Bills Khakis has been named to Inc. Magazine’s Inner City 100 five times, as one of America’s 100 fastest growing inner city businesses.
In a small way, the mere existence of Bills Khakis has been a minor business miracle. The brand has managed to build a cult following in a market category so large, it would reject the notion of a business that strives to sell and service one pair of khakis at a time.
Who said it can’t be done in America today.