Alexander (Alex) Julian was born and raised in Chapel Hill, NC. His father, Maurice S. Julian, opened a cycling shop in Chapel Hill, Julian's Cyclery, later becoming a clothier and opening Julian's in 1942. Alex pursued a degree in English at the University of North Carolina while working at his father's clothing store. Alex pleaded with his father to open a store of his own, and while his family was away for a month in the summer of 1969, Alex released one of his father's tenants from a lease, dropping out of school and at age 19 opening his first store, Alexander's Ambition. He subsequently bought out his father's interest, leading to a period where he and his father were in direct competition.