In February, Charleston area native Drew English and his mother, Beth, started talking about making a product that epitomizes the Lowcountry.
“We wanted something unique, something that spoke to some of the great qualities about Charleston,” he said.
They decided on a bow tie. But not just any bow tie.
English wanted a material that was casual and natural, something tied to Charleston. They chose burlap because oysters, a local treat, are sold in burlap bags.
“We thought burlap would be a perfect material to blend the two styles together,” he said from his Johns Island home where the Carolina One Real Estate agent makes the bow ties in his spare time. His mother also makes them at her Summerville home.
To dress up the burlap, they chose vintage ribbons to tie around the center of the bow ties and different colored buttons stitched on the front as an embellishment. Because no two ribbons and buttons combined appear on the same ties, no two ties are the same.
For a company name, they also reached into Charleston lore.
“Why not make this a brand that is synonymous with something in the Lowcountry?” English, 33, said.
They decided to call it The Charleston Oyster Tie Co. and placed the name inside the shape of a shield to give the firm a formal, yet nostalgic image. Prices range from $40 to $55.
“We wanted to brand the company as if it were an old oyster company that made ties,” English said. “We wanted a vintage logo to match the product.”
At first, they wanted to use the same material used in oyster bags, but they found the burlap wouldn’t hold its shape so they upgraded to a higher-quality, natural-woven burlap they now buy in bulk.
After the initial trial-and-error period over the spring, they developed a prototype they liked and launched the company in early May online through Facebook and Instagram.
“We looked at a lot of bow ties,” Drew’s mother said. “Like with any business, you come up with a prototype, and it needs to be a little bit bigger or a little bit smaller. There was a lot of taking them apart and putting them back together to get the perfect look.”
She said she knew they would be in business together one day.
“We always knew we would have something when the right thing came along,” she said. Beth English once operated a home accessories store with a business partner in Summerville and later worked as a buyer for GDC Home, a Charleston-based furnishings store.
“I have always worked with burlap, and I sew,” the homemaker said. “I was doing something with burlap one day, and it just came about. Drew came up with the idea of bow ties.”
English and his mother make about 60 bow ties a week, and they have several hundred ready for sale.
“We are getting orders from all over the South with people giving them as gifts mostly,” he said.
He pointed to one woman in Mississippi who ordered one for her grandson. “I did a huge rush for graduation,” English said.
He will seek out custom orders and will make hand-tailored ties for weddings and other occasions. He also makes ties for all different seasons. The summer and spring selection feature more vibrant colors with more nautical themes, while the fall line will focus more on natural tones, collegiate colors and darker shades.
The ties are not in retail stores yet. “We are building up inventory first,” he said.
This fall, two Lowcountry stores and two in western North Carolina will carry them. He’s not ready to announce who they are just yet.
“Starting out, we want to stay in small boutique stores that are interested in high-quality craftsmanship,” English said. “We really take pride in the quality and handmade craftsmanship of our products.”
If the business takes off, English said he and his mother are going to keep going as long as they can, but eventually, he said, he may have to hire someone.
“I have a few people lined up to sew if that’s the case,” he said. “I want to keep the hand-sewn aspect of it, and I want it to remain being made in Charleston. We are ready for the growth when it comes.”
One of the best parts of bringing the business to fruition has been collecting the materials to make the bow ties, English said.
“It’s been fun trying to find all the stuff,” he said. “It’s been like a treasure hunt.”
He’s hesitant to say where he gets everything for proprietary reasons, but he said millinery shops are a good source. English also learned a new trade in case his real estate career does not work out.
“I’m a much better sewer now than when I started,” he said. “I’m more nimble with my fingers. That first batch was blood, sweat and tears.”
English realizes there are other burlap bow ties on the market, but his offer a “pop of color.”
He also believes he’s achieved his original goal.
“I wanted to brand the Lowcountry in some way, and I couldn’t think of a better way,” English said. “It’s a great piece of fashion.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.