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The Sit Down: Stuart Billingham

When I first started thinking about a line of clothing that reflected my active, on-the-go lifestyle, I was lucky enough to have a lot of talented, supportive people around me who could help take my dreams (and endless ideas) and make them a reality. I had guidance from my pal and stylist Victoria Trilling, and when we partnered with JCPenney, I gained another fashion ally in JCP’s Senior Director of Design & Brand Management for men’s private label collections, Stuart Billingham. The guy has serious street cred: Born in the UK, he has worked with such notable brands as Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister. As luck would have it, he’d been asked to create a concept for an athleisure brand that could compliment my Collection suiting line at JCP. From the very first meeting, Stuart and I were aligned on our vision for what we wanted: a collection of comfort, stretch, and performance clothing that could go from the gym to wherever life takes you next. With the 18th collection now in the works, I couldn’t feel more grateful to Stuart and his passion, vision, and enthusiasm. 

His backstory: “I had always been creative since an early age, but I had a teacher back in the UK in high school who started an after-hours textile class which I attended one evening.  I instantly fell in love with how fluid it was. A few weeks later, she came to my house to speak to my parents. She told them she felt I had shown passion for what she was teaching me, and she wanted to take me to London Fashion Week. My parents allowed me to go, and the moment I witnessed my first runway show, I was sold. That was back in 1998.”

His turning point: “I guess I have to be thankful for a few fateful moments, being in the right place at the right time, and the people I have met along the way. After graduating in 2001, I worked 13 hour days in a factory making filters for coffee machines—a far cry from fashion. One night while I was out, I met an old school friend who was working for a company called Animal, in the South of England, that was looking for a menswear designer. The next morning, I sent in my resume, had an interview, and got the job.” 

His day-to-day: “No day is the same for me, so I get to work on so many different creative projects. Whether I am creating new lines, color, designs, fabrics, working with suppliers on producing samples, traveling around the world for creative inspiration, or working with Michael and his amazing team, it sometimes doesn’t feel like work [at all].”

His P.O.V.: “I’ve always tried to take on different projects that I’m able to gain valuable experience from, whether it’s working with different companies with different cultures, or immersing myself in different opportunities where I can try new things. I believe the key to keeping things fresh and always evolving as a designer, and as a person. There is always risk in standing up for what you believe in and following your dreams no matter what, but usually it comes with reward no matter the outcome.”

His success secret: “Understand your abilities but never stop trying to better yourself. Ask questions. Soak up everything that is going on around you and learn from everyone. That is how I try to live my life both professionally and personally.”

His Michael story: “Michael and I met back in 2015. I traveled to New York to meet with him at ABC Studios after he had finished filming for GMA that morning, and presented the concept for MSX by Strahan. I was nervous and excited, but Michael and his team were so down-to-earth and welcoming, and we immediately started geeking out over the product. It felt very natural right from the start.”

On MSX by Strahan“When we initially created the concept, we tried to do something that I don’t believe any retailer in our sector was doing, which was to build a line of lifestyle product that was very high quality and trend-right for a lower-priced retailer. We tried to tap into something that was very early in the market, but we designed it in a way that didn’t feel fashion-forward. It felt easy to wear, with the ability to transition from whichever lifecycle you were wearing it. I think if you look at where the market is now, that’s exactly what consumers want, so we were early, but we were right.”

His look: “I don’t have one particular style; I’ve always felt comfortable mixing it up each day, but my most recent go-to look would be a more minimalist approach: tapered pants with a little crop, white sneakers, and a clean fitted T-shirt or button down. I wear the MSX premium mesh tees a lot. I’m also about to rock one of our new MSX button-down styles that’s coming next season every single day. I’ve been wearing the prototype and it’s unbelievable!”

His must-haves: “Well I can’t function without my phone (surprise), my Koio sneakers have been my go-to on a daily basis, and the Jon Favreau’s new The Chef Show on Netflix (my wife will say I can’t cook to save my life but I’m obsessed with that right now).”

His influences: “Being in the creative world, I’m influenced by so many things, so many places, and so many people. I find inspiration in everything and everyone around me. I always look up to people that work hard and dream big. Michael has been quite inspiring in that way.”

The talent he’d most like to have: “I would love to be able to cook really well. My wife is a very good cook, and I love watching her do it so effortlessly. I just can’t. I have bad multi-tasking skills.”

His words to live by: “Walt Disney said, ‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.’ As someone who has tried to follow my dreams in life, and as a father to three young children who I hope I can help guide, too, I guess I find this quote the most endearing and true to my heart.”

What’s next: “MSX collection no. 18! It seems crazy to say that as it felt like yesterday when we started the brand, but I get excited about every new season we create.”