Interview 6: Andre Williams, All-Weather Workers and Travelers

by | March 2, 2021 | Interviews, Makers

Andre Williams

Spend some time Googling Andre Williams, and you’ll learn a lot. Andre was a Boston College running back, 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist, and drafted into the NFL by the NY Giants in 2014. After an injury took him out of the NFL, Andre returned to football with the XFL and the Houston Roughnecks. Like so many things impacted by the 2020 COVID pandemic, the XFL suspended operation last April, and Andre departed professional football. 

Andre is no stranger to hard work, setbacks, and new beginnings. While an active pro athlete, Andre, a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur, started two denim brands, DK Shin and All-Weather Workers & Travelers. While the brands were established well before, Andre made waves on the Raw Denim Facebook page last November by offering free jeans to the group members while supplies were available. 

I couldn’t understand what kind of business model this was or how it could be financially viable. I thought the jeans must be cheap, poorly made, or some sort of sketchy labor practices. There was no catch, and the jeans, yeah, he sent me a pair, are pretty great.

Over the last four months, I have spoken with Andre and learned more about him and his brand aspirations. In addition to being a hell of a guy, Andre is passionate and motivated to bring well-made Japanese denim to the USA to be cut and sewn and establish All-Weather Workers and Travelers (AW) as the brand for affordable, well-made selvedge denim. 

Andre Williams of All-Weather Workers & Travelers

Andre Williams
Andre Williams

The Arcuate: Andre, man, this is a little overdue, but it’s an absolute pleasure to have you participate in an interview for The Arcuate. I’m really grateful for your time. Can you tell me a little about yourself, your family, and the dynamic at home, especially in a semi-post-apocalyptic version of everyday life?

Andre Williams: You already gave me quite the intro, Grant. I’m honored to do this interview with you, sir. Thank you for appreciating my work! I’m 28. I have two handsome hyper-athletic genius gifted boys, Barron (four) and Ka’el (two). I married my best friend in 2019, and I thank God for her every day because we make each other whole. 

I’m from New Jersey. I grew up in a Jamaican household. There is one thing I will always remember my father telling me. When I was big enough to dress myself to go to school, my dad would ask me, “Dre, you wearin’ a belt? You have pants on, no belt, you might as well have no pants on at all!” This bit of fatherly wisdom triggered something in my brain. Suddenly I was considering how I was dressing and the things I was wearing.  

That became the cornerstone of my style because I don’t think about the trends when I put on my jeans. It’s sort of an instinct at this point. However, I do think about my dad asking me that question. 

As for this post-apocalyptic version of everyday life, I spend a lot of time with the kids putting together hot wheels tracks, potty training, and making breakfast. As my day job, I run a secret fitness club as a trainer.

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TA: Wear a belt! I have a few recommendations if you’re still in the market, Dre. Everyone seems to have a selvedge origin story. when asked, the answer always feels the same. “It’s a hobby.” “I like fades.” Andre, what’s your denim origin story? Acceptable answers may include fabricated stories about radioactive indigo spiders.

AW: Up until six years ago, I didn’t know what selvedge denim was. My first creative project was shoes back in 2015, and that project ultimately led to selvedge denim. 

At 22, before my second season in the NFL, my marketing agent introduced me to a guy named Eamon in NYC. He offered to help me build my own shoe as he prepared to roll out his brand, Oneground Footwear

Eamon helped me create the Runningman. I loved and became addicted to the creative process. After eight months, the Runningman Red Herring was born, an ultra low-top leather sneaker. That shoe was like a key, and it opened a gateway into the fashion world.  

In 2015, I met Jean Shop NYC’s owner at Project tradeshow, and he invited me to his store. This is where I bought my first pair of raw selvedge denim. They looked pretty good off the rack. After a few wears, the waist started stretching out badly. The fit was very awkward, with the waistband hanging off my hips and my thighs still choked up. 

This led me to a young, idealistic artisan, DK. DK really schooled me on Japanese selvedge denim. Little did I know this would be the start of AW.

TA: That might be the most unique origin story I’ve come across so far. OK, this is definitely an interview about denim and AW, but I have to ask, what was life like as a professional athlete? Was it everything you expected it to be? Were there any surprising letdowns?

AW: The NFL was a fantasy world. Not that the scores are rigged, or the hits aren’t real. They are very real! The emphasis on entertainment and raising a superstar is just as significant as the emphasis on winning. There is a level of drama and politics that goes with the game that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with. 

I had some great times on and off the field with some genuinely legendary players, which profoundly affected me. The game taught essential lessons like the value of the individual within a team. My work ethic became more robust, and my respect for sport became solidified. Good competition is the sign of a healthy market. 

In the end, the Giants put a hole in my heart when I was let go after year two. That was definitely a surprising letdown, but it was for the best. I had two great years in Cali with the Chargers and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. 

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Andre with the NY Giants

TA: How does a background in applied psychology and life as a pro football player translate into heritage wear brand design and ownership? That seems like a crazy leap.

AW: I went to college not knowing what I wanted to do with my future, let alone a major. I knew for sure, a 9-5 wasn’t for me. I also knew I was not OK with taking on a crushing debt before entering the workforce. That was common sense.

I didn’t pursue a degree in Applied Psychology because I thought I’d use the degree after school. I did it because I thought it was a major interesting enough to endure for 4 years of school. Additionally, I picked the psych degree because it was one of the few degrees that BC offered that I could complete early if I made the NFL draft. 

From pro football to heritage brand design, I would like to say that I did not design AW as a heritage brand, but it does honor me that you see the heritage in my work. AW is a heritage brand because the material components, the shuttle looms, and the craftsmanship used to create these jeans are consistent with vintage denim workwear. 

TA: This leads me to a related question. Brands started by pro athletes, musicians, and actors all seem to have a stigma that follows them; that is to say, they are here today, gone tomorrow. How do you defy and respond to that stigma and establish the staying power for AW?

AW:   Stick with me, here. My first three denim fabrics were made for me specifically, using top-shelf, organic cotton, organic dyed, & milled by 3 of the biggest and oldest selvedge mills in Japan. No one else has them or ever will. 

The raw jeans in my collection are unsanforized. I love unsanforized selvedge’s ability to contour to the body; to me, this is denim’s most natural form. A hot soak or short wash is enough to squeeze out any extra space. This combines wearer personalization with these uniquely crafted fabrics.

AW aims to establish itself in the niche market of athletic fit, Japanese selvedge denim. This isn’t a fly-by-night operation. I’m in it for the long-haul, and I am doing this with simple principles in mind. Above all, I started with great fabric. Then, I created an original fit and constructed well-built denim jeans according to the highest standards. 

TA: Andre, you sort of appeared on the Raw Denim group on Facebook last November, seemingly out of the blue. You were offering a limited number of pairs of free Japanese seveldge denim jeans to members. That must have triggered quite a response. What was the reaction like? Did you get met with skepticism? 

AW:  I am sure there were skeptics, but the skeptics asked for jeans too! A lot of people hit me up to see if they could get a pair to try. I ended up handing out about 10 pairs. I had on hand these new pairs for one reason or another, stock I kept close by. I did have some apprehension about the project. I was only giving away some items. I had roughly 13 pairs, and I wanted to make sure I was screening the requests and distributing sizes properly, based on my on-hand inventory. I got caught a couple times promising to send sizes that I no longer had. In the end, I did plant some good seeds. 

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TA: What did you hope to accomplish by giving away your product, and do you feel you achieved the desired result?

AW:  Short term, my goal was to let people experience the quality of my jeans, and not just any people, denimheads, the kind of people that would see the value of what they were getting. I felt that if my jeans were appreciated here, it was a good indicator of how the market would receive my products. It was a live test before entering the online market. I had already been a group member for some time, watching faders do their work, learning about other brands, etc. 

The guys in the Facebook group consume a lot of selvedge. When they get something good, they can see it right away and talk about it. I want them to get excited about how much more AW has to offer and even more excited about being catered to just because they love selvedge denim.

My long-term goal in giving out the product is to use input from the Facebook group to craft the perfect selvedge denim subscription box service. Having such impassioned people in one place creates an ideal panel for feedback. 

The raw denim community is the customer base that makes a point to treat these products with great care and extract every bit of fade potential from great fabric. Watching the journey that the denimhead takes, aging the raw AW fabric, is what I’m most interested in with this group. 

TA: With regard to this community, it is fantastically scrutinizing. Why in the world would you want to endeavor into this space when you could more easily meet the needs and wants of a more forgiving fashion community? 

AW:  I draw parallels between owning a denim brand and playing ball. Playing with the best competition, competing at the highest level, being number one; that is my denim journey. The point wasn’t to make something easy. It was to make something I could be proud of by solving an issue I personally had with buying and wearing jeans.

I asked myself a lot of questions before diving into denim. Is it possible to make high-quality jeans for people with an athletic body type? What would be the ideal way to shop for clothes online? Can I participate in the fashion industry, operate a business making clothes, and be sustainable?

The short answer is yes. I can make a better made, longer-lasting product making it more sustainable. Denim is a versatile fabric that almost every culture embraces as part of a wardrobe staple. With my unique knowledge and personal experience as an athlete, I could help design better quality and better fitting jeans for people like myself.

Andre Williams

TA: Let’s get into the specifics of the vision you described. What can you tell us about the denim mills you use and your plans to move to manufacture stateside? What makes AW so special in a crowded space?

AW:  For my first line, I worked with Kurabo, Kuroki, and Kaihara Mills and developed new selvedge fabric to contribute to AW’s launch. I have excellent relationships with all of them now. 

My purpose for AW is to bring a modern solution to a difficult problem. I want the words “online shopping,” “top-shelf selvedge denim,” “great price,” and “customer service” in one sentence. That’s AW’s purpose. Working with these mills is part of that.

Currently, 8 different Japanese mills are creating new selvedges for AW Season 2. I am bringing the denim to the USA, where it will be cut and sewn into jeans, shirts, jackets, and accessories. I want to create practical denim styles for any situation, with top-shelf selvedge denim.

I’m also developing a tiered selvedge subscription box service. Like other subscription boxes, the buyer will pick a price tier and choose a delivery interval that suits their needs and budget. The difference is high-end US-made denim products will be inside, haha. The items in each box will be curated through a preference survey sent at the service’s start. I plan on adding a repair service as well.

TA: Alright, I have hammered you a little bit. Let’s get a bit lighter. Dad to dad, what is it like being an entrepreneur, athlete, and father? How do you find balance in those roles and simultaneous success? 

AW:  I feel fulfilled because my wife and I created a beautiful family, one for which I get to eat with every day and go to sleep next to at night. I am genuinely thankful for them and that experience. If I have nothing else, I have peace and wholeness.

I had this conversation with my wife the other night. What is success? I decided that my definition of success was to do what I want to do, for myself and for my family, whenever I want to do it. I believe success in this life is tied to how we think and requires me to use my brain, take courage, and think positively. If I can keep those three things constant, then success will follow.

Balance has been difficult. Sometimes it is impossible to carry all my roles at once. I rely on my wife daily to support our kids and me. She does a great job making us whole. Eating home-cooked meals with people I love is vital for my mental, physical, and emotional body. I think it is very underrated R&R. 

Making it into my gym studio to exercise and show other people how to transform their bodies and adopt a healthy lifestyle is also fortifying. Lastly, I try my best to practice a few spiritual disciplines daily, like prayer and Bible study, even if it’s just meditating on the verses I tatted on my body!

Andre Williams

TA: What workwear brands do you admire, and what is it that makes them unique in your eyes?

AW: I really admire are Edwin and Rutloff. 

With Edwin, I appreciate the minimalist details of their pieces. I always say that a pretty girl doesn’t wear makeup. Edwin understands that their craftsmanship and quality fabric will always outlast bells & whistles other brands might use to make up where they are lacking. 

Rutloff, to me, is special because Johan is a true artisan. He’s highly skilled at what he does. I know his product construction is excellent. 

A special nod is deserved for OrSlow. They are a Japanese workwear brand that I love for their classic styles, and emphasizing great denim fabric makes them unique. 

TA: Fun way to round it out: I used to ask everyone, if I searched your Spotify playlist (Apple Music, Pandora, what have you), what would be the most embarrassing track I’d find? Why the attachment to that song?

AW: I’ve got some great music on my youtube music gym playlist. I ask all my members to give me one or two songs to add to the playlist, and it has grown into a thing of beauty. I recently discovered a group called Black Pumas. Listen to “Old Man,” if you haven’t heard it yet.

There are a couple of songs on the playlist that I am not so proud of. One of my most senior members always requests Godsmack, ‘Cryin’ like a Bitch’ to get him through the most challenging part of his workout. I’m not very fond of the song myself, but if that’s what he needs to work, then turn the volume up!

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About the Author

Grant Schildhouse

Grant Schildhouse

Grant, our Editor in Chief, is a denim enthusiast and writer; The Arcuate is his attempt to combine these loves in one place. He wants to tell some of the stories behind those who make and wear denim with a passion. His journey into the world of denim continues, and he hopes you'll co-journey with him, allowing him to be your fireside storyteller.