Just four years after graduating from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Chris Williams, now a consultant at Wells Fargo, launched My 1st Suit. This savvy non-profit provides guys who are the first from their families to attend college with custom tailored suits. But first each must attend a four-week program designed to help them emerge on the other side confident—and, of course, looking the part. As the group celebrates five years, we talk suits and success with its innovative founder. This isn’t your typical non-profit. Why suits? I grew up in a low-income family with all boys— things got rough. But over the course of time, I got more interested in what was going on in the business world and less interested in what was going on in the streets. [My college mentor] ended up buying me my first suit—and it was a custom suit. So, in 2008, I realized that I wanted to give back, and so I combined the idea of exposure and the suit.
It’s a great idea, but in these days of tech, it seems there are fewer and fewer jobs requiring suits. What I try to promote and get young men to understand is that success has a lot to do with how you’re dressed both on the outside and the inside. My 1st Suit dresses young men mentally. We expose them to all kinds of situations that show them that they can have a custom life, a better life, and the custom suit is the crowning jewel of that experience.
So, who makes your favorite suit then? Not sure if I’m allowed to say I will say that Joseph A. Banks makes a great suit.
Five years in, what’s been your biggest challenge? Funding. It’s either been out of my own pocket or personal donors. It’s also tough to convince companies to provide these young men with special projects.
Special projects? The men work with an organization on a project. Right now, some are working with OrthoCarolina to fight obesity in a community here in Charlotte that’s really affected by it.
Speaking of Charlotte, why start this here? It makes sense because one of the things that I notice all the time is that too many of our young men here in Charlotte are settling for an average life. There’s a large population of men ages 18 to 26 here who just have no direction; no mentors. We bring together men from the business community here with first generation college students, and it allows them to see themselves living a different life.