But who was Bill Mitchell? It was going to take him some time to come to that answer. Uprooted by a family move to the Greenville area when he was in high school, Mitchell found himself an outsider at his new school.
“I kind of had a crazy, go wild sort of period in my life,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was making decisions that probably weren’t the best.”
Chuckling to skirt the details, he says he eventually came to a fork in his road. Either he could continue living the way he was living or he could be a totally different person and figure out his life. While he’d attended the local tech school, Mitchell had friends who went to Clemson and were members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). After a bit of encouragement, they finally convinced Mitchell to join them for one of the group’s weekly Thursday worship sessions.
He still remembers how electric that first night was. Ever since moving to South Carolina, Mitchell had searched for a community where he could belong and contribute. And finally here it was.
The realization had stunned him.
“I saw the band and was like ‘Man, that’s what I want to do,’” said Mitchell. That night he returned home with a challenge before him: do well at Greenville Tech so that he could transfer to Clemson and be a part of this community. His sophomore year Mitchell buckled down, taking 46 hours of credit and practicing for his audition. Almost before he knew it, it was the fall semester, and he was on stage as the FCA guitarist and taking management and marketing classes in Sirrine Hall.
Looking back at what he learned, Mitchell sees that it was never about tests or grades. “I learned how to be curious again, and I think that was the most important part,” he said. “I learned how to be a kid again.”
In Clemson, the childhood habit of tinkering came back full force. “I had taken so many things apart that I kind of understood through reverse manufacturing how [clothing] worked,” Mitchell said. “So I bought a pattern and was like, ‘I’m going to make a pair of jeans.’ I wanted to create something from nothing.”
It had started with just one pair of jeans, born out of curiosity more than anything else.
“They were pretty rough,” Mitchell recalls, laughing. The legs hung unevenly and there wasn’t even a button to recommend them, just crudely stitched belt loops that Mitchell wound a rope through. First and foremost in Mitchell’s mind was that he wanted to improve. The first pair had been good in its own way, but good needed to be better; better needed to be perfect. It was just the sort of creative challenge he thrives on.
“I started tailoring things, then I designed my patterns,” Mitchell said. “Then after that I began putting things on Facebook. The posts simply said ‘Making jeans now. If you want some, then send me a message.’ People would start messaging me, and I would take it from there.”
Aided by Mitchell’s contagious charisma and his innate desire to get out of the woodwork, Billiam Jeans was quickly on the tip of everyone’s tongue. He soon had a waiting list more than 400 orders long scrawled in one of his school notebooks.
“I got to this point where I was hiding from everyone because everyone was asking ‘Jeans? Where are my jeans?’ I was one person; I couldn’t make 400 pairs of pants!” Mitchell exclaimed. “I’m sure there are still people who are waiting on their jeans from six years ago.”