Brandon Williams makes sure athletes are dressed for success

By Liam Isola | Posted 2 years ago

The arena walk-in has become a makeshift red carpet for NBA players. Style is an integral part of a player’s brand and the walk-in is a prime opportunity to showcase personality and garner attention.

While some NBA fashionistas like Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Russell Westbrook shop for their own wardrobes, many players look for outside help. That’s where Brandon Williams comes in.

Williams has made a name for himself as a stylist and image analyst, with an impressive client list of professional athletes across three sports. However, those titles don’t completely describe the scope of his work.

He has, in the past, contributed to Sports Illustrated’s Fashionable 50 and been an on-air host with the LeBron-owned media company UNINTERRUPTED among other ventures. He’s currently the host of Bleacher Report’s Style Watch and is designing a collection with Hudson Jeans.

The LA-based, Columbus, OH, native fortuitously got his start as a stylist to former NBA All-Star Michael Redd, his brother-in-law.

“Mike just kind of liked the way I dressed. I used to come to a lot of his events that he had back when he was playing and obviously, us being close, there was that influence.

“He influenced my awareness of fashion, ironically, just the way I was able to influence his later on in our friendship. So, he was working with a stylist at the time and I was the little bro but he would always love the way I would dress, so I think he was giving me a compliment but also being serious at the time too. So, he gave me an opportunity eventually after I had moved to LA and interned for a while underneath some established stylists and the rest is history.”

Since then, he’s assembled a client list that boasts NBA players like Mike ConleyRudy GayJeff Green and Delon Wright along with MLB’s Jack Flaherty and Dansby Swanson. He also continues to work with retired NBA player Matt Barnes and former NFL cornerback Orlando Scandrick.

Williams’ body of work has vaulted him to the forefront of the sports styling world.

While he builds his clients’ closets and advises them on their wardrobe choices, the process is about much more than that. When Williams’ clients meet him for the first time and bring their opinions to him, they’re often taken aback.

“Some are shocked to find out that it’s not a fashion first thing for me, it’s more about the people,” he told OSDB Sports recently by phone. “I feel like I’m more in the people business than anything and that camaraderie and rapport that’s built in that initial conversation really sets the tone for what’s to come. It’s really about asking a guy a lot of questions: What’s important to them? Where are they trying to go in their career? How do they feel a better image can help them reach these goals? That’s where we start.”

He takes this people-first approach to heart:

“It separates any brand from the rest when you are relationship focused and not transactionally focused,” Williams said. “Not to take away from the power of a transaction but just the piece that comes from trying to build a brand that people respect and has integrity and that people love, it’s cool to know that the secret sauce is loving people.”

He also prefers to let his work speak for itself in lieu of aggressively pursuing new clients:

“I don’t really headhunt clients like that, I’m really particular about who I do work with,” Williams said. “Because it is such a closely-knit process you can’t really just have a free-for-all in terms of grabbing clients, it really just has to be relationship-based. Word of mouth and referral based are probably the strongest ways.

“Secondly, would be what I’m able to get: attention from work in the public eye, Instagram helps, the website helps and articles that have been written about me in the press all help as well.”

There are definitely players he’d like to work with in the future, though:

“I would really love to work with Julius Randle. I’ve said this for a long time and I know him and we’re cool with each other,” Williams said of the Knicks’ star. “I just think that, one, he’s a great guy, personally, and two he has a good fashion IQ himself and I think together we’d make a lot of dope moments. And the next I think I could really help and, he seems like a stand-up dude, is Bradley Beal. He doesn’t get it wrong at all but I know that there’s such an untapped potential there and I would love to help bring that to light.”

And celebrities for that matter:

“I think Pharrell would be cool to work with because he just has a pretty dope fashion IQ. Not that he needs help but more so that it would help me grow my awareness of what’s possible.”

For his current clients, his approach has certainly paid off. Conley of the Utah Jazz, who made his first All-Star appearance this season, and Jeff Green of the Brooklyn Nets, are currently front and center as both of their teams are primed for deep runs in the NBA playoffs.

Both are understated with the media but have made bold statements over the years through their outfits.

Do the playoffs change their approach to style?

“Yeah, the approach does change in terms of only the importance of the opportunity,” Williams said. “These are moments that you can’t really get back sometimes and playoffs, having a good team and being on a No. 1seeded team in the whole entire NBA, let alone the conference is a rarity. So, of course that comes with a lot of exposure and you want to maximize that so we work our way up to this the whole entire year. So, I think the approach of importance changes and they are very aware of the fact that there are way more eyes on them, so we are in heavier communication for sure.”

While off-the-court fashion draws the lion’s share of attention, I also sought opinions on his favorite uniforms:

“The Phoenix Suns uniforms are dope, I’ve always liked the Phoenix Suns,” Williams said. “The old school Vancouver Grizzlies throwbacks, those are fire. I think right now the Utah Jazz has the best entourage of different options on the court as far as basketball goes.”

When asked to recount his favorite athlete fits, he drew from his impressive body of work:

“The Andrew Wiggins draft day suit is one of my top fits of all time for sure,” Williams recalled. “I think it changed the landscape for menswear fashion in sports. The Jaylen Waddle draft day suit was really awesome as well and Kyle Kuzma’s red carpet ESPYs look in 2019. Those are the top three that I styled.”

And if there were any he’d like to forget:

“One time I put Mike Conley in this all-red outfit and, in theory, it sounded better than it looked,” Williams said. “He didn’t look bad but it didn’t age well and it was a playoff look.”

Certainly, hits far outweigh misses. His claim about Wiggins might seem bold but the floral suit that the Warrior’ wing and former No. 1 overall pick in 2014 of the Cleveland Cavaliers donned on draft night was covered by the Huffington Post and Women’s Wear Daily and inspired its own Twitter account.

Williams noted the Wiggins’ suit was one of the most pivotal moments in his career as a stylist along with being featured in a commercial and campaign by Nike called Sports Changes Everything.

Lakers F Kuzma has been one of the NBA’s boldest players in the style department and was one of Williams’ clients for a time. But that’s not the player whose outlandish fashion choices have surprised him.

“I was pleasantly surprised by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, he’s dope,” Williams said. “He gets it pretty right in terms of his style.”

Meanwhile, Waddle, a WR from Alabama who the Miami Dolphins took with the sixth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, is one of the most dynamic rookies and someone Williams could see himself working with again in the future.

“I hope that I get to work with him, it really just comes down to how important it is for him to maintain the hype of what he was able to get in terms of the draft,” Williams said. “I never force anything and we have a good rapport right now. But, he has to concern himself with football things first and foremost. Around the time he’s ready to break his focus a little bit and think about his style, I’ll be here.”

While big events like drafts and the ESPYs have been important to his career in terms of publicity, Williams takes a holistic approach to his clients’ wardrobes. He sets them up for public appearances and lounging alike.

“I build closets, that’s my first approach,” Williams said. “I look for them to address their entire wardrobe. You can’t build a style by just making outfits. You gotta really tap into the lifestyle and everyday choices that a person makes and how those should look and how they should function. Guys are typically more functional than they are fashionable so that approach helps build the right option for functionality and a diverse schedule.”

Being unfamiliar with the inner workings of athlete styling, I was curious about what happens to the pieces that athletes wear on special occasions like draft days and if they wear them again. Brandon’s response surprised me.

“Yeah of course, like I said, I build closets,” he said. “I don’t really ever suggest anybody wear outfits head-to-toe the same way you wore it the first time. I think there’s a way to remix, most of the time, the outfit, where you’re getting a lot of use out of the pieces. I never encourage anyone to buy just one thing and then never wear it again, that’s just wasteful.”

I was also curious about whether athletes get free clothes from labels in exchange for the publicity:

“Athletes pay for their clothes, brands don’t really give anything for free,” Williams said. “You would think but that’s not the case. Some brands give things for free but for the most part the athletes pay.”

With extensive closets that are custom built for players, you may think that Williams controls what players wear, but that’s certainly not the case. If there is disagreement between what he wants and a player wants, he touts the saying:

“Don’t ever let the clothes wear you, wear the clothes,” Williams said. “I feel like that’s important so I listen to my clients in terms of what they want to wear and what they don’t want to wear. It’s a lot of them with a little bit of me sprinkled in the mix, if that makes sense. Over time it filters for a tailored approach, but initially they have a lot of say.”

Choosing the right outfit isn’t the only challenge, because especially for NBA players, getting proper-fitting clothes and shoes can prove to be difficult. Another challenge, with his MLB clients, is the jam-packed 162-game schedule that the league plays, meaning a game day outfit for each one.

On the differences between working with MLB players and NBA players and if it changes his approach:

“Mainly the coverage that the team gives, one. Two, the coverage the league gives and three, the schedule is a lot different. So the schedule for baseball is really heavy so the approach is a situation where you gotta be really on it. At large, there’s not a lot of guys who think the story of the players is properly told in the MLB, off the field. So getting more press and getting more notable avenues to tell that story is really important to at least the players I’ve been able to work with and I’m working with now.”

The NBA is often seen as a player-driven league with a commitment to access. In an unprecedented step, players were also able to express themselves with social justice-themed slogans on the back of their jerseys during the restart in the Orlando bubble last year. Smaller roster sizes also help the players stand out both on and off the court.

Meanwhile, the MLB has a more conservative reputation but there are signs things are changing. Players like Amir Garrett and Lucas Giolito are outspoken on a range of social issues, Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman has his own fashion label named HDMH Apparel and the once highly controversial bat flip, following a home run, is starting to become commonplace.

Through style, Williams’s clients Flaherty of the Cardinals and Swanson of the Braves want to put themselves out there and engage with fans and potential sponsors on a different level.

Who knows? With this ongoing shift maybe one day the MLB stadium walk-in will double as a makeshift fashion show like the NBA arena walk-in. You’ll know one of the people responsible.

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