CHRISTOPHER CLAYTON leads Billy Reid’s culture of inclusion by implementing four foundational pillars: employment, education, awareness, and community.
MONARCH: Let us begin with you sharing a little insight on your- self.
CHRIS CLAYTON: I’m a Navy brat. I grew up in Miami, Florida, but I was born in the Philippines. My dad, a Black naval officer, met my mom there in the Philippines. Before I was a year old, we relocated to Philadelphia and then spent my formative years in Miami. And that’s really where I got my start in fashion in terms of on the retail side. I studied apparel design and technology at Florida State. So began my fashion industry career on the creative side and really trying to get an understanding of the business and how to bring some- thing from an idea and a concept to market. And from that, it led to my first corporate job at Abercrombie & Fitch, where I worked as a retail manager for about a year and a half before moving into a corporate recruiting role.
MONARCH: How would you describe your style?
CHRIS CLAYTON: Honestly, I would say eclectic. It kind of speaks to my growing up, from the Philippines to Philadelphia to Miami, Florida, to even living in rural areas. I spent some time in Albany, Georgia, and just understanding and taking in fashion. I love people-watching.
MONARCH: Who have been your style influencers throughout the years? In short, who do you look to for inspiration on your style?
CHRIS CLAYTON: The majority of my fashion influences weren’t necessarily from celebrities or people in magazines. A lot of it just came from everyday people and seeing how they styled things, how they freaked it, how they took something that people otherwise wouldn’t wear and made it their own. And then it’s those personal style cues that I kind of pulled from. My grandfather man, I need to send you guys some photos of him. Sharp, you know, grew up during the Harlem Renaissance jazz era. This was when three-piece suits were the norm. And also the hoochie daddy shorts craze—my grandfather was doing that in the eighties with the high socks and everything. So I pulled a lot of style cues from him. But on the celebrity front, Diddy is a great one and then also Lenny Kravitz; I just love his style.
MONARCH: You know, we have a pretty similar background in the sense that I was born in Nigeria. My family’s Nigerian. We moved to London, then New York, then Virginia. So when people ask me that same question about my style, it comes from my world travels, the places I’ve been. I think that really adds some substance when you’ve been able to implement or be influenced on such a worldly level. So I love that.
CHRIS CLAYTON: Billy Reid had a call to action: “There’s so much going on in the world and I don’t know where to start or what we should do, but I want to hear from all of our employees. I want ideas, how can we better support our people at the company? We might not be able to change the outside world, but what can we do better here?” And during that call to action is when I let them know. I was like “Hey, you know, I’ve done this work in the past at Abercrombie.” I gave them more information on the work that I did. Then we had another call with a smaller group of people who had some better insight and experience. And after that call, they asked if I would be interested in leading it. I got the support structure internally and externally from others who achieved success in the DEI space.
From there, we were able to build and partner with some other organizations that we are still supporting and they’re supporting us.
MONARCH: I love how you advocate for yourself and push for your- self. I think a lot of times people of color don’t do enough of that, for various reasons. What are your exact responsibilities in your role as a DEI director at Billy Reid?
CHRIS CLAYTON: My role as director is to develop initiatives and strategies that support and bring people together. Shift company culture and really create a more inclusive culture for the people that are at the company. Understand how can we provide things that support them, whether it’s different policies in the form of health- care benefits or work–life balance? For example, you know there are people that started young and sin- gle, then they got married, and now they have kids. So, their needs change, and as a company, we grow to better understand what those needs are.
DEI touches on all of those things because you want to have people that can come in with different life experiences, different educa- tion, different understanding, and different concepts because it just makes for a better product, a sharper tool, and A service that is more appealing to a broader audience.
So as a company looking to grow, why wouldn’t you want to be able to reach as many demographics as possible? As a brand, you want to have a level of continuity, something that people can identify with, something that draws people to that brand. But it doesn’t have to be exclusionary. It can’t just be a Band-Aid, just put on to fix a problem. That DEI has to be rooted in what the company is doing.
MONARCH: In the years that you’ve been in retail, have you ever seen this kind of push for diversity and inclusion within the industry?
CHRIS CLAYTON: I think what’s different now versus in the past is that we’re looking beyond the visuals, like marketing campaigns and what your retail team looks like. Now it’s like pulling back the cur- tain. Who are the people on your board? Who are your executives, the people in middle management, the shot callers that really have influence?
MONARCH: Why do you believe it’s so challenging for clothing brands to reflect diversity that’s authentic to Black people and peo- ple of color?
CHRIS CLAYTON: I think it comes from the people that are in a po- sition of power, the decision makers, and their level of comfort and willingness to place themselves in uncomfortable positions.
Their ability to hire or consult with the correct individuals before making a decision for a demographic of people that they are not a part of. Companies performing due diligence—or at least have a consultant. Versus, simply adopting what other brands have done. I think that’s what’s coming to a head in the industry now. There are so many people of color that have platforms now, who are speaking out, and we’re calling bullshit on a lot of things.
MONARCH: I hope that this continues to pick up. Billy Reid is tagged as an everyday luxe line. I love that description. Now, how would you, in your own words, describe the Billy Reid clothing line?
CHRIS CLAYTON: I think it’s wearable music. Think about where American music originates: the South, which is the most diverse place in America. Think of the rhythms of Africa and the sounds of the Caribbean, the brass military bands of Europe, and all of these things amalgamating. Billy is from Louisiana, where Ameri- ca’s OGs of jazz music derive. From there you add the birth of tra- ditional rock and roll, the blues, and R&B, and I think you see all of that in the clothing. It can put you in a mood of going to a jazz club or a jazz lounge—we got clothes for you. You going to a coun- try music concert—we got clothes for you. You going to a rock and roll concert, R&B concert—you can find all of those things at Billy Reid. And it’s clothing about celebrating life too.
MONARCH: Where do you plan to take Billy Reid in the future?
CHRIS CLAYTON: For me, it’s how can diversity, equity, and in- clusion, enhance our company? I’m in conversations with our CEO, almost on a daily basis, and we’re brainstorming and think- ing. About how we can bring in talented people who share our vison, our heritage and traditions, and our values.