Thomas Bird is an unlikely fashion designer. “I can’t remember the last time I bought a pair of shoes. When I was setting up the business I bought 20 navy t-shirts, one pair of jeans, 40 pairs of pants and socks and wore the same thing every day.”
He started with no fashion qualifications, he knew no one in the business and had no clue what he was doing most of the time. “That’s pretty much still the case now,” he confesses. But his own approach to running a business and his own sense of style make House of Billiam stand out among other streetwear labels.
“The whole idea was for people to be able to express their own personal brand through combinations of colours and materials. A lot of British brands are based on making one garment over and over again very, very well. That was what I wanted to bring to street wear: make one jacket and make a perfect example of that jacket.”
But Bird very nearly became an accountant. After graduating from York University with a degree in philosophy, he had a choice: continue toying around with making hoodies from suiting fabric or take a job at an accounting firm. Thankfully he chose the former on the advice of his parents who said it was a “stupid idea” to throw his talents for making away.
He moved to Homerton in east London in 2009 and began making custom-fit varsity jackets for his friends. He chose fabrics from Yorkshire woollen mills and leather from English tanneries, then lets customers design their own versions – finishing each one by hand in his studio. Word quickly spread and his clientele expanded to include NME photographer Lawrence Watson, who has dressed LL Cool J, Lana Del Rey and Jamie XX in them.
Still, Tom isn’t one to follow convention. “I’ve turned down a lot of shit pop stars,” he says. “I don’t turn them down because they are shit. I turn them down because they don’t want to pay.”