Before I Got All I Have, I Lost All I Had

William Wilson ThinkingI’m a living success story. I have everything I need, and more than I dreamed of. Some would say I have it all.

But before I got all of this, I lost everything. Before William Wilson Clothing, I owned a residential framing company called Arka-Mex. We framed custom homes that were over 8,000 square feet. So you see, before I even knew it, God had me working in custom. Anyway, my construction company was very successful. I was playing 2 rounds of golf a day, 4 days a week, and I had plenty of cash. Things were good. Then 2008 hit, and the economy crashed. I had already been planning William Wilson Clothing, and had saved over $85,000.00 to launch it the right way. But when the market crashed, the bottom fell out fast.

One day, one of my employees called me and told me he couldn’t reach of the builder to order more lumber. I tried and couldn’t reach him either. So I drove up to their offices. No one was there. “No biggie”, I thought to myself. “Maybe they are having a company outing. I’ll try them tomorrow.” The next day, I drove to the office again; no one was there. I looked through the windows, and the computers are gone. Everything is gone. Without warning, notification or explanation. They just closed shop, without paying anyone. I obviously wasnt going to get paid. But I had 2 weeks payroll to cover. $$82,385 to be exact. What was I going to do? These guys had done everything I’d asked for the last 2 weeks, and they deserved to be paid. I only had one choice. I paid them out of my own pocket. I’d saved up $85,000.00 to start this company. But after paying every one, I had $2,616.00. Not to mention, a $1345 mortgage, utilities, gas and groceries to buy. I had no work to do. I had lost everything. I don’t come from a rich family, so I had no one to bail me out. I was stuck.

So-with the last money I had, I bought a website building program, printed some business cards, went to Panera Bread in Ballantyne Village and started planning William Wilson Clothing. I was there everyday from open to close, for weeks. Building my website, doing research, and meeting with everyone I could. I taught myself the clothing industry, PR, marketing, branding, sales, and infrastructure building. I couldn’t afford consultants, so I had to learn to do it myself. One day, my friend, former Carolina Panther, Al Wallace gave me the opportunity to make him 2 sport coats. This led to me making suits for Mike Minter. Over time, I began making suits for more and more celebrities and athletes. The brand started to grow. Since I was still new to the business, I figured I should work to my strength. I would focus first on selling to the black community. After all, these are “my people” right? I figured, white people didn’t know anything about me, but at least “my people” would give me a chance. Especially the ones that are always talking about “giving back to the community” and “supporting black business”. But that was not the case. Not by a long shot. I was doing some leadership consulting on the side to make ends meet, and had a nice little celebrity client list growing. Things were slowly turning around. I figured eventually “my people” would start buying from me. With the money I WAS making, I started reinvesting into the business; in hopes of growing. Then it happened again. For 2 months, I didn’t sell a single suit. Not one! I made NO money. Everything I had saved went to pay my bills. I was down to $13.77 in the bank. I had 2 choices. Get off my butt or sit on it. I made a decision. This was the last time I was going to have less in the bank than a 2 topping pizza costs.

So I got up. And I decided to take a chance and widen my net. I went to every networking event, business meeting, luncheon, or anything I could find where people wore suits. I couldn’t afford to keep living like I was. I passed out cards, shook hands and smiled in the daytime. And I prayed, worried and often cried myself to sleep at night. I couldn’t believe I was broke again! But I kept going. And things started to change.

White people started to hear about me. And they started to buy my suits. And they kept buying them. And they started sending me referrals. I know some of my black brothers and sisters may not like that I pointed that out, but it’s the truth. I have to give credit where it is due. God blesses us how He sees fit; not how we expect Him to. I thought selling to “my people” would be easy. Especially after I started to get some brand recognition. But that didn’t happen. That’s not to say that I didn’t have ANY black clients. I did. But the data spoke volumes. Less than 5% of my black clients were non-athletes. My bills were being paid by white people. To this day, that is still the case. Less than 10% of my black clients are non-athletes. And I appreciate them JUST as much as I appreciate the rest of my clients. No more-no less.

Anyway, my bank account started to grow. And I began to sleep better at night. I kept selling more suits. I began to get more press, more social media presence, and more speaking engagements. I built some strong strategic partnerships, and became a philanthropist. Life had finally  started getting better. I woke up one day, and I realized, I was living the exact life I was hoping for, when I moved to Charlotte. I have not reached the top, but I can honestly say, I have everything I need. A healthy relationship with God (though I could do much better), great friends that love and support me, respect in the community, my family is healthy, and the ability to eat bologna and Ramen noodles by choice, not by circumstance. I have everything I want. But before I got here, I lost everything I had. There is nothing special about me. There’s nothing I did, that you can’t do. Just don’t give up. And don’t think outside the box. Use the box to store memories while you build a better life for yourself.