A few hours before game time, Northwestern football players make the short walk from the team bus to the locker room. Among the formally dressed Wildcats, 6-foot-2 quarterback-turned-wide receiver and redshirt freshman Lloyd Yates stands out.
It’s not only his big personality or the smile that always seems to be on his face; Yates is without fail one of the best dressed on the team.
“I would say I like to go against the norms at times,” Yates said. “I like to stand out while being subtle. It’s funny because on game-day we all get excited to see how everyone dresses up. We have some really fashionable guys on our team and it’s great to hold each other to high standards.”
Yates has been dressing sharp for games since high school, where he starred at quarterback at Oak Park-River Forest High School and amassed a school-record 72 touchdowns.
“Growing up throughout high school, my dad was really into ties. He wears a suit and tie to work every day, he dresses sharp, and he got my brother into it. My brother worked at a store downtown called suit supply and he went to suit school and did the whole nine yards and that sparked me to get interested in it.”
This passion for looking sharp actually extends all the way back to Yates’ great-grandfather, who worked as a railroad porter in the early 1910s and 20s. He wore a suit and tie to work every day, engraving the importance of dressing this way to Yates’ grandfather, who passed it along to his father. To say fashion matters to the Yates family would be a drastic understatement - the passion has spanned four generations.
His interest in fashion is what prompted Yates to found Tilford Ties, a small business that sells ties, bowties, and pocket squares for very affordable prices. Tilford Ties offers $7 Ties, $6 bow ties, $5 pocket squares (there are a few exceptions to brand-new items), from “Ralph Lauren, Penguin, J Crew, Suit Supply, Michael Kors, Brooks Brothers, and much more.”
“One day my dad was cleaning out his closet—he has clothes galore—and he had like 250 ties,” Yates said. “He said ‘Lloyd, you should take these and go sell them after school.’ That’s how I got started. I took those ties, brought them to school, and sold them for $5 a piece. It is what it is.”
Last year, Yates started the business at Northwestern, selling the ties out of his room in Bobb-McCulloch Hall. Yates said the response to his ties was nothing but positive: “I was selling like ten ties a day for over a week.”
The feedback for Tilford Ties was overwhelmingly encouraging from customers. Some of Yates’ clients are fellow Northwestern athletes, and have to maintain anonymity due to compliance issues. Nonetheless, here is what they had to say.
-“Tilford Ties has quality ties and name brands for low prices. It's the best deal I've ever found when searching for ties. I received my ties quickly and the customer service was great.”
-"Having only bought my ties from big retailers or getting them handed down to me, Tilford Ties was an experience I've never had before. The wide selection of ties and brands combined with the great service makes them a unparalleled in the world of ties. Plus the affordable prices makes buying from Tilford Ties a no brainier."
-"Tilford Ties is a great company Lloyd started from scratch. Anyone can find a tie there."
Tilford Ties has come a long way from its humble beginnings in plastic bins stored under Yates’ Twin XL bed freshman year. Yates has had the company website completely redone, and he’s partnered with freshman year teammate and Northwestern senior Dami Arowolaju. The supply of ties from his family remains strong.
“Tilford Ties became a much heavier load than I expected and I needed a partner to help me,” Yates said. “Dami [Arowolaju] always showed interest in the business and being a former teammate of mine, I always knew he had great work ethic and incredible fashion sense.”
The name of Yates’ company is fitting for someone who prefers to be subtle yet stand out. Tilford is the name of Yates’ grandfather, who he was very close with. He has always wanted to use the name because of the catchy alliteration. With over 100 ties left in its inventory, the rising redshirt sophomore has high hopes for Tilford Ties.
“We want to continue selling second hand clothing for our great prices by having people donate their unused ties, bow ties, and pocket squares to us,” Yates said. “And yes, soon we want to create our own line of clothing as well.”
The versatile Yates will spend the spring and summer working on making the transition from quarterback to wide receiver. “I like the transition and I find it a lot of fun,” Yates said. “I can't wait to see the opportunity the position change will hold for me this upcoming season.”
It’s a tough switch for anyone, but regardless of what happens on the field, Yates will certainly look good off of it.