INTERVIEW : Bill Thomas-Bills Khakis

Back in ’90, when I was in college at Santa Cruz, I decided I’d start wearing khakis.  In retrospect, I’m not sure what prompted the decision, but it probably had something to do with my tendency to rebel against whatever they were doing on the hill.  And, as I have a tendency to make life more complicated than it needs to be, I set out on a mission to find original vintage American GI khakis.  At about the same time, on the other side of the country, Bill Thomas was on a similar mission, but rather than scouring the Army-Navy surplus stores, he set out to “save this small but symbolic piece of Americana.”

“The idea of starting a company that captured and celebrated the American ideal took on such a great philosophical importance to me that I quit my advertising job in Chicago and moved home to Reading, Pennsylvania, to start Bills Khakis.”

A few weeks ago, a Bills Khakis catalog arrived in the mail.  After looking through it for a few minutes, I handed it to the wife and said, “I would wear everything in this catalog.”  Bills Khakis has hit their stride with their most recent collection.  I was impressed enough to drop Bill a line, and he was kind enough to share his Sporting life with me.

The Sporting Life:  Where did you grow up?
Bill Thomas:  Reading, Pennsylvania…or at least in the greater Reading area. Places barely on the map.

TSL:  What were your hobbies as a kid?
BT:  Sports – Hockey, Football, Golf, Baseball, Tennis, Skiing – I never got good enough at any of them to grab more than a local headline. I admire athletes with a good head on their shoulders. Here again, one tends to admire what they don’t possess.

TSL:  Where do you live now?
BT:  Outside of Reading, in a place barely on the map.

TSL:  What are your favorite local haunts?
BT:  Old country places with good karma that are kid friendly with a good beer list and a few flat screen TV’s…occasional music too.

TSL:  What did you want to be when you grew up?
BT:  Good question. Wasn’t sure, I just knew I wasn’t good enough at anything I wanted to be.

TSL:  What was it about the state of khaki pants that you felt something needed to be done?
BT:  Nobody was known for making the best khakis money could buy which is why nobody had a favorite brand of khakis.

TSL:  How daunting of a task was it to start a US based clothing company when seemingly all clothing production was being outsourced, or at least headed in that direction?
BT:  At the time, it was a personal quest so I signed up for it. It feels and seems more daunting looking back on it.

TSL:  Who was your target market when you started? Has that changed?
BT:  Anyone looking for a truly great pair of khakis. It’s broad. The demographics are easier to get your arms around than the psychographics. I really don’t think the target has shifted significantly, at least more than general trends captured by the US Census.

TSL:  Why was/is it important to you that your clothing was made in the US?

BT:  It goes to the heart of what khakis represent. (That’s a vague answer, but intentional).

TSL:  What inspires you?
BT:  Drawing upon and interpreting the past and seeing it have relevance today and in the future.  That, and creating jobs.

TSL:  How has the business affected your life in an unexpected way?
 BT:  Enjoying life with my wife and children has had a greater, more unexpected effect on my life.

TSL:  How would you describe your personal style?
BT:  Believe it or not, I don’t put enough thought into it to describe it. I guess much of it comes out in what we make, although we attempt to merchandise the product line in a manner that spans the preferences of varied taste levels within the scope of our interpretation of the brand. Some “designers” might call this a blurry vision. We look at it as “What people wear with khakis.”

TSL:  What is your goal for Bills Khakis?
BT:  Fulfill our potential as a brand and hope to inspire others to do the same.

TSL:   Do you feel that the ease of access to media and information has improved our quality of life, or reduced it?

BT:  More good than bad. One has to have gadgets to plug into it and I’m not a gadget guy…just one more thing that can break.

TSL:  Are you worried about global warming or “climate change”?

BT:  I think our climate has been dramatically changing for 5 billion years. How much of that change is attributable to humans, I don’t know. I also think we should be good custodians of our environment. The environment is a public place, natures place, and one shouldn’t litter. Being responsible for future generations is simply the right thing to do.

TSL:  What other Sporting activities are you into, i.e.: Surfing, Polo, Hunting,
Fishing, Croquette, Axe Throwing, Yachting, Drinking, Cooking, Car Racing, Motorcycle
BT:  Just drinking.  A little.  I wish I could spend more time on my mountain bike (any time would be nice), and more time skiing. Being a hockey dad to both a daughter and son fills the winters. Golf, baseball, football and horses fill the rest of the time with our kids.

TSL:  Who are you currently listening to, what music do you like?
BT:  Don’t have the band width to actively follow music other than what I pick up on WXPN out or University of Pennsylvania. They’re pretty on top of it, although I could get drawn in pretty quickly to this scene if I had the time.

TSL:  Who are your favorite authors?
BT:  Here’s an honest answer I’m not proud of… I don’t read much. When I hit the pillow, I’m usually out.  Ayn Rand helped me put into perspective the way I feel about things, and I never had more fun reading a book than “Born to Run.” by Chris McDougall.

TSL:  What are you currently reading?
BT:  None of the 4 books by my bed.

TSL:   Champagne and Caviar or Beer and Chips?
BT:  Beer and Pretzels.

TSL:  If you could own any car, what would it be?
BT:  A new Jeep.

TSL:   What is your greatest extravagance?
BT:  Just trying to provide a good life for my family. Any time we can all travel together is an extravagance.

TSL:   If you could live in any era, when would it be?
BT:  This one’s good.

TSL:   If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
BT:  I love New England and the Rocky’s, but it’s also beautiful in Pennsylvania.

TSL: What’s your idea of the perfect lunch?
BT: A lunch prior to a round of golf during the work week. I haven’t done that in a while.

You can check out the latest offerings at