The house is packed at the 700-seat Shoals Community Theater in Florence, and Alabama Shakes is rockin’ the place with its distinctive blues-and-soul-based sound. The internationally acclaimed band might be playing anywhere, but on this particular night last August, the group is the surprise headliner at Billy Reid’s Shindig 7, an annual festival in Florence that showcases food, music and the arts.
Billy Reid is not exactly the best-known businessman in Alabama. But he is semi-idolized in the Shoals area, and his annual Shindig events have attracted thousands of locals and visitors. And if Reid isn’t that well known throughout Alabama, he’s certainly well known in fashion circles outside the state.
A Louisiana native, Reid designs men’s and women’s clothing and sells it online and through retail and wholesale outlets, winning accolades as he goes — most recently being selected as Menswear Designer of the Year in 2012 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
His designs have been worn by the likes of actress Reese Witherspoon, actor Daniel Craig of James Bond fame and Tony Award-winning actor Alex Sharp. Reid has been featured regularly in GQ, Vogue and other major fashion media outlets. His website includes a shot of him with Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, a mega figure in the fashion world.
After working earlier in his career in Los Angeles, New York and Boston, Reid moved his family to Florence in the mid-2000s. His brand, now in its 10th year, is sold in luxury boutiques in the U.S. and abroad. There are 12 Billy Reid retail stores in New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Austin, Charleston, Nashville and elsewhere. But he and his family opted for life — and his flagship store — in his wife’s hometown in the Shoals.
Reid divides his time between there and a design office in New York. But his company’s Facebook page calls him “a son of the South.” He clearly has an affinity for the Florence area and is a strong believer in community support and involvement.
“I’ve known Billy Reid since he moved here from New York, and he’s a wonderful community ambassador, ” says longtime Florence resident and businesswoman Jean McIntyre, who has numerous contacts in that area. “He wants to be part of any community he’s in. He’s warm, creative, fun. There is nothing pretentious about him.”
Reid’s most recent Shindig in Florence (he also does one in Austin each year) attracted Rachel and Michael Lasserre of Birmingham. It was their second trip to Florence for the event.
“We have a cousin who had worked for Billy Reid and kind of turned us on to him, ” Michael Lasserre says. “I like the way he incorporates a lot of Alabama artists, and just talent in general is what brings us to Shindig, just to see what’s happening in the state. We moved to Alabama from Atlanta five years ago, and we’re interested in the local angle.”
In an interview with local media during Shindig 7, Reid said, “The whole (Shindig) idea is about community and celebrating everything that’s going on. Whether you come to town and end up visiting Tom Hendrix’s wall or visit Muscle Shoals Sound or play golf on the Robert Trent Jones Trail or have dinner at Odette, whatever it may be, we’re trying to give people a reason to come visit and experience an incredible weekend in our community.
“It’s great to see so many people, friends and family coming in from all over. My favorite part is watching people coming in from out of town and mixing with the locals and watching those relationships come together.”
Charlie Ingram is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He is based in Birmingham.
Text and photos by Charlie Ingram