INTERVIEW| Bow ties anchor cottage industry for South Carolina mom
This madras bowtie and others like it are available from elliesbowties.com.
Ellie LaVeer Stager, a Rock Hill, S.C. mother of two, is behind a burgeoning online cottage industry, The Cordial Churchman. I came across her work, which includes converting old madras shirts and old silk ties into bows, last week over on Ask Andy. It’s really impressive — she uses only 100 percent cotton or silk materials and charges just $23 for her product. I conducted a virtual interview with Stager earlier this week. Take a look:
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself.
A: When I’m not making bow ties, I’m caring for my two young boys, Deacon and Owen. They are ages 3 and 1 and keep me quite on my toes. Especially the younger one. I love to sew other things too besides bow ties, especially accessories and things that I can finish in one sitting, I love the feeling I get when I complete a sewing project. I am also a singer/songwriter. I play guitar and sing and perform at various venues in the Charlotte area, and I hawk my CD to people who don’t seem to be interested in bow ties. (Check out www.myspace.com/ellielaveer )
Q: How did you begin your seamstress work and what brought you to bow ties?
A: My mother gave me a sewing machine for my college graduation gift in 2004. I earned a degree in business finance and I never really thought that my degree and my sewing machine would go so hand-in-hand. But they sort-of do. I feel like I’ve always known the basics of sewing but I have become much more interested in becoming good at it in the past year.
Only a month and a half ago, I purchased 2 yards of seersucker fabric to make a church outfit for my three-year-old boy. When I had finished it, my husband, Andy noticed that I had a good bit of fabric leftover and complained that it wasn’t fair for him not to get something handmade, too — he’s had a thing for seersucker since moving to the South — and that I try to make him a bow tie. So I just threw one together, improvising the whole way, and gave it to him that night. (Remember, I’ve got a short attention span; I like to start and finish things in one sitting!) He posted a picture of it on the Ask Andy About Clothes Trad forum and on Twitter, just to show off. I also posted it on my blog — again, merely show-and-tell. But before the week was over, we had nearly 30 people lined up to buy seersucker bow ties. When I see that tie now, I can’t believe how sloppy it is. I won’t even let him wear it!
Q: I’m still bowled over at the idea that you convert old ties into bows. What inspired that?
A: I always had it in my mind that it could be done but didn’t know if anyone did it. After searching around on the Internet, I realized that it definitely has been done. By using neckties, mostly found at thrift stores, I am able to have access to wonderful types of silk patterns that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to find (or afford) and it keeps the costs down for my customers. Also, people have started sending me neckties that they sort of like, but might be a bit “off” for one reason or another, and asking me to convert them into much more handsome and happily-worn bow ties.
Q: Where do you find your materials? Certain materials are surely easier to work with than others. Which kinds are your favorites to work with?
A: I only sew bow ties with 100 percent cotton seersucker or madras or 100 percent silk. Like I said, I’ve found some of the neckties to convert from the thrift store and I buy the seersucker at a fabric store. I’m lucky to have a large fabric Mecca near me. I’ve also used other thrifted clothing items such as pants and shirts to cut up and make into bow ties. I try to not destroy otherwise perfectly good and wearable clothing. Two bow ties I’ve made recently were made out of pants that were really wild — and probably should never have been made, much less worn — as pants, but which made great bow ties.
I do like working with the seersucker fabric. Sometimes staring at the stripes makes me dizzy but it is such a nice fabric to sew with. Madras is also a nice fabric to work with. Silk is kind of a pain to sew with because it is so slippery. But when I get to see a nice silk bow tie all tied up, I think it was well worth the effort.
Q: $23 is a refreshingly reasonable price, especially for handmade items. Why are your crafts so moderately priced?
A: I have been able to keep my overhead costs low by buying some items in bulk and working from my home. I hope to continue to offer my bow ties at a price that is accessible to all gentlemen that like to wear or would be willing to try bow ties.
Not all guys who enjoy clothes can afford drop $60 at Brooks Brothers without thinking twice about it. For now, $23 keeps my bows affordable enough for the thrift store-shopping cheap skates (like my husband — he’s on a preacher’s salary, after all!), while suggesting to the more affluent among my customers that I’m still serious about making quality bow ties.
Q: I see you do custom work. Is this a big part of your business?
A: Custom work has really been the basis of the business. Almost every tie I make is made after it has been ordered. This way a customer can tell me exactly what they are looking for. I will let my customers choose their tie’s shape and what type of fabric they would like, and they can even combine two colors making a reversible bow tie. I’ve also made bow ties for weddings with matching children’s bow ties. And again, gentlemen also mail me their neck ties to convert into bow ties.
Q: What do you think of the attention you’ve gotten so far? Where do you see your project going?
A: I am amazed at how popular bow ties are right now and how people have come out of the woodwork to buy my ties. I like being an independent custom tie maker because I can build a humble but real relationship with my customers. The best part is when I receive e-mails of pictures of the ties and the responses they’ve had when they wore the tie. Also, this personal touch has generated many referrals. I hope to keep that personal touch as a main part of my business. In the future, I would also like to wholesale my ties to men’s shops, and continue to make custom bow ties for weddings.
Ellie’s Bow Ties