This week, we’re welcoming Verillas to Richmond. This LGBTQ-owned clothing brand, which specializes in creatively designed kilts and boots, was founded in Fredericksburg, but has officially arrived in Richmond on W. Cary St. as of the start of 2022. They’re embracing their new city with open arms, working to make Richmond their home and find a place within the river city’s LGBTQ community, and the community as a whole.
We recently caught up with Allister Greenbrier, who both founded Verillas and previously owned and operated Fredericksburg’s Greenbrier music for 17 years, to get the scoop on the move to RVA, the company’s creative design aesthetic, and their plans for continuing to grow the brand. Here’s our conversation.
John Reinhold: So how long have you been in Richmond?
Allister Greenbrier: Since March. We [Allister and partner Ivy] just got married and picked a house up here.
JR: Where were you before?
AG: Before that? I was in Fredericksburg for most of my life, up until 2021.
JR: I didn’t know that. So your original brand in Fredericksburg, what was that?
AG: Greenbrier Percussion. I started that in high school, ran it for maybe 16, 17 years, and eventually closed it to do this.
JR: So what made you switch to clothing in particular?
AG: One of the biggest factors is that the clothing industry is something I love more than I ever thought I would [before] I started doing it. I found the clientele, the customer base, and other stores and vendors — everyone that I work with — is really chill, really nice and pleasant. And the quality of life suddenly smacked me in my face. I went from a very corporate music store to a very happy and chill art office, essentially. It was so much better, and I never thought anything would be better than music.
JR: So what made you get into the designing of clothes in particular?
AG: I always wanted to be really good at sketching, and I loved animated characters. I started on Dragonball Z, and lots of other things. I wanted to bring that video game clothing into real life, I just was never very good at it. Imagine a toddler crayon and a napkin. That was me designing clothing, and explaining “This is a zipper and this is an armpit seam.” I don’t even know how those work, but it was hilarious when I first started.
JR: Have you gotten better at that?
AG: Since then? I have, I got better and better over six years. I went through a lot online, YouTube classes and stuff, to get to the point where I could do technical drawings. They still weren’t pretty, but they were technically correct. And then the last year and a half, I hired someone to take over almost all of the design work. She does amazing. She is so much better than I ever was.
JR: So on the technical side of drawing, I guess when it comes to clothing, there has to be some amount of the sketch equaling the sizing and what each piece would be cut to be.
AG: Right. Certainly, the framework of the piece is always done from sketch to first sample, and then through trying things on, and through comparing things to other pieces, we have to make not only the sizing for that garment [but make it] consistent with the sizing across the brand. It’s all a struggle, where we have to make something quite a few times before we bring it to market.
JR: So what is that process of creation to bring it to market, to mass production?
AG: Well, first we might imagine the same setup as a group playing Dungeons and Dragons, except that’s all of us debating what fashion item to release next. It’s hilarious. We’re all lighthearted. We’ve become old friends there. This business, once something stands out as what we think we need to do next, it goes from an aesthetic sketch to a technical drawing, to a sample, to something that I might wear around town for a month. I get feedback from friends. Is it comfortable? Does it fit? We go to grading, which is making every size of the garment, and if it survives grading and more people trying it on, then the thing goes into production and hopefully is good from there.
But sometimes on production we find [that the] sizing’s not inclusive, or something’s itchy, or what have you. And then we update things on the second round, or the third run, often as we get feedback.
JR: So in the beginning it was you who would have made a majority of the designs. And now its more of a collaborative effort with your head designer?
AG: Yeah. Kaia and Elyse do all the design work. I eventually had to give that up as the company got too big, and I have more duties around marketing, accounting, and managing.
JR: So for them, where does the influence for the different designs come from?
AG: Originally, as it started, it was my love of video game characters and fantasy characters. But I’ve been a long time member of the SCA [Society for Creative Anachronism] and the Medieval groups — where I would swordfight, craft, and have a good time — and the Renaissance Faire-adjacent climate and looks. I’ve recently gotten into large groups, and some of those things steer my part in the design process, but the company has really outgrown just my vision. And now with our ten-member team, everyone has a little bit of a say in what things we release.
JR: One of the reasons I wanted to have the interview and talk to you is that your company is obviously very inclusive. As far as the designs being for male, or female, non-binary people, really anyone. Can you speak a little bit to how that’s changed and grown?
AG: Absolutely. When we started, we really only set out to sell kilts and boots and make those. [Since then], it’s become vastly inclusive, and just kind of easy to inherit what those things could be as the company grew. And we got into other types of clothing — especially signaling through clothing. Like, with our kilts, we have an entire line just based on the colorway, signaling your sexual preference or something interesting about you. We even did one that referenced different houses from different movies for a little while (like Harry Potter).
So, you know, we’ve had fun playing around with it, but in the process, stumbled into realizing, through our customer base, [that] we just wanted to do this. We realized they loved it more than a lot of our base designs. Now a lot of our Pride community line items are outselling our basic colors. We were lucky to have that take off.
JR: That’s great. So where would you like to see the brand go?
AG: We actually had a meeting about this last week and I realized, we dream a lot bigger than we have the funding for sometimes. Right now, the struggle is that, as we go through that design process, we talk about bringing high quality products to people, products that fit inclusively, that are comfortable, that have attractive colors and nice fabrics, and to keep our prices under control — all at once. We’re losing that battle a bit [with] some of our newer things that we just started launching. Sometimes we think like a price needs adjusting, or we think that the comfort, the durability, or something’s just not quite there. It costs quite a bit of money to refine an entire category of products into what we think meets various standards. So we looked at what we think we’re best at, which is kilts and our leather. I think we’re going to really take the quality a step further.
We’re going to look at a wider price-inclusive range, because I know that our prices were prohibitive for some people. We do really high quality, expensive leather stuff, for the most part. So I hope to launch some less expensive variants that are a little simpler, but bring the quality and some of the curves and panels, and the aesthetic with leather. It really is the answer, and the focus of the stuff we plan to launch soon. In addition, bringing in more stuff for women and non-male audiences categorically, since most of Verillas is still a men’s brand. We just never found the funding to get past that.
JR: So in order to find the clothing and your brand, you use your website, primarily. I know you had mentioned that now you’re officially in Richmond, and you have a new warehouse, it’s a possibility to have a showroom. Is that something that is in the works?
AG: Yeah. Actually, in about a month, we will have fully moved into one building in Richmond. [As of] now, we have a big office in Fredericksburg and a small office in Richmond. So we’ll finally all be under one roof. Part of that is an effort to consolidate, to get a little more organized, and to do a better job at our core products. So that we can have a really good space to launch from, and to offer a wider array of new products, maybe in about two years.
JR: What would you say is your core product? What is your best seller?
AG: It’s really a toss up between our Monolith boots and our V-cargo kilts, and all the different iterations of that V-cargo kilt, whether it’s Pride-themed or whatever…
JR: Yeah, I like the kilts a lot. I thought they all were really good on price too, because kilts aren’t necessarily cheap online anywhere, really.
AG: I really tried to have that range again, to be able to reach all of our customer base. I want to offer things that are not too high a price, but they have the quality to match it. Another form of inclusivity is price inclusivity. If you don’t have something in there that a first-time buyer can reach, or somebody who isn’t particularly wealthy, then it feels like your brand really is focused on whatever that economic issue is. And we really want to be there for everyone.
JR: That’s great. So now you’re in Richmond. What do you think of being in Richmond?
AG: Richmond is rad. Everything here is wild, from the murals to the fashion I see on people. Not to knock Fredericksburg, but it’s become a transient place. A lot of commuters live in Fredericksburg. People come and go. But in Richmond it has a lot of long-term residents, like yourself and my wife. I mean, everyone has made it their own. There’s a sense of community. I have been living here for a week and I already knew my neighbors. I know a ton of bartenders, places to go and people to see, even in a COVID environment.
JR: And that can be hard to do.
AG: You know, the brand does kind of fit Richmond, even up here in Church Hill. It’s kind of Gothic. Obviously you can travel around Richmond and get that feeling — the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, and even Fallout. I think Richmond is super diverse, and that’s the coolest thing about it. In some ways, it’s the opposite of conservative. And I don’t mean politically, but in terms of expressing yourself through fashion and hobbies and art. You’ve got all of it in Richmond.
JR: I know that we had talked before this about diversity. What does diversity mean for you personally, and in your brand?
AG: What I like about diversity most is self-expression. I wish I could remember what the original slogan was, something about being adventurous about being yourself. And that was before the company had grown into having a Pride-centric line, or even being all about fantasy. It was just some killer boots at the time. But what I liked about it was this vague sense, or feeling — and this is my marketing genius at work so don’t laugh…
JR: I’m not laughing, I like it.
AG: I just thought putting a kilt on, leather boots and a t-shirt, it was kind of like putting on modern armor to go to the grocery store, or whatever felt like you. You know, putting on your greaves and gauntlets and your chest plate to go to battle. Except you were just like, “I’m going to make it through today.”
JR: I like that because it’s so true. It’s so true. I was at Floyd Fest when I finally bought my first kilt. I was with my wife and I was DJ-ing the event. And when I kept going by one of the places that had kilts, my wife was eventually like, “Why don’t you just go get one?” And then once I got one, I wore it for, obviously, the rest of the [festival].
For me, it was almost like a F-it [feeling]. There was a certain amount of freedom to it, which is kind of silly to say, because it’s obvious. But I definitely liked the idea of, like, you’re strapping it on and rocking. It’d be nice if it could be accepted everywhere, but it’s still not everyday wear. It would be nice if it was, I would really enjoy that, but it’s not something that I can just do anytime. I couldn’t necessarily always wear them around Richmond, though there are days I do.
AG: I think it depends on the locale. We actually don’t do wholesale anymore, except to a really good friend of mine, JT Centonze, the owner of a shop called Off-Kilter Kilts. It was in Pasadena on the outskirts of LA. They recently moved, I think, to the north side of LA. But where there’s a retail shop in a community, there are people who manage to have an office job and be the kilt guy. We made a canvas and velvet formal-wear line just for kilt office-wear, and, well, of course in some places it’d make your job awkward. It could make your social climate difficult in other places. I think it’s starting to get accepted and take some hold. But the biggest challenge to it, I think, is the idea of gender roles that some people haven’t updated, you know?
JR: Absolutely. I feel that. I often wear Thai fishing-style pants, which I got from my friend Conway, who got me into that. They’re pants, not skirts or anything, but I still get the question: “Are you wearing a skirt?” And I still think it’s really weird. I’m like, “Well, first off, that shouldn’t matter. And then second off, no, these are actually Thai fishing-style pants,” which I’m surprised that more people don’t want to wear, because they’re incredibly comfortable. Amazingly so. And they seem like something that can kind of go anywhere for me, even more so than a kilt. But I still get that kind of comedy interaction every once and a while.
AG: Yeah. I think everybody wants to put everyone else in a box. If someone just sees you on the street, whatever out-there fashion experiment you might be running, whether it’s New York runway couture or it’s some Renaissance faire garb, or a kilt or whatever, people are just going to ask, “Hey, what box do I put you in?” And unfortunately they come off mean and tactless about it, more often than not. But, you know, I don’t think there’s ill intentions for most people most of the time.
JR: Yeah. It’s definitely sometimes just curiosity. And then sometimes it comes with something underneath it. And you can usually tell the difference.
AG: You know, I’ve had people that are good friends that came off [weird] when we first met, about something like that. And I’ve later found the most common thing is, they’ll come back and say, “Hey, you know, [I was] just kind of jealous that it seemed like you could just wear that and not care.” And maybe they’re afraid of their job, you know, that impacting it. Or their relationship, or some social group, or a thing that they’re a part of. And then most of the time, two, three years later of being friends, I find they’re like, “That was fine the whole time. Now I’m doing what I want to do.”
JR: Thank you so much for meeting up and talking about Verillas. It is so expressive, and I love all the creations, and the uniqueness in the designs. It’s great to see a diverse clothing brand call Richmond it’s home. So stoked that you’re in Richmond, and I look forward to seeing more in the future.
AG: Absolutely, thank you!
Photos courtesy Verillas