We Made This | Artisan Products by Refugee Women

Fashioning Change

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Sasha KalcheffComment

Knotty Tie Co.

by Jamie Siebrase on June 9, 2015 on Company Week


Denver / Founded: 2013 / Privately owned / Employees: 12

Co-founders Jeremy Priest and Mark Johnson wanted to make something meaningful with their hands. The result is a whole new breed of necktie.

                                     Photos by: Kara Pearson

                                    Photos by: Kara Pearson

After serving in the military and graduating from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Jeremy Priest was volunteering with We Made This, one of the African Community Center's programs for refugees, when he noticed a need for ongoing workforce opportunities for Colorado's refugees and asylum-seekers. Many of the folks Priest met were having a hard time adjusting to life in America because of language and cultural barriers.

"Their credentials don't always transfer," explains Priest. Most of the refugees and asylum-seekers Priest encountered, though, had basic sewing skills. We Made This expanded on those pre-existing skills, but, Priest explains, "There weren't many jobs for them when they graduated the program."

Priest linked up with co-founder Mark Johnson, and the duo purchased textile-printing equipment in order to make an ordinary garment more impactful both to the sewers -- half of whom are refugees or asylum-seekers -- and customers.

At Knotty Tie Co., the customer really does come first. That's because clients are involved in all aspects design. After filling out an online form, new customers are paired with a designer who works closely with the consumer to create, well, anything.

"The customer supplies the idea, and we can take any design element and make it into a beautiful pattern," Priest explains. From a bowtie with your best friend's face to a necktie with robots and llamas, imagination is the one and only limitation when seeing your unique, certified organic cotton concept come to fruition.

Knotty Tie Co. supplies individuals, companies and wedding parties from all over the world, and the company will make a single tie or 1,000 ties, depending on the client's demand. Ties are customizable in terms of size, length, color and design. "Where our company shines," says Priest, "is in the customer experience."

Technically, Knotty Tie Co. isn't tie-exclusive anymore. Last winter, it added infinity scarves to its repertoire, and Priest and Johnson are currently prototyping such offerings as suspenders and socks. All products are handmade in a facility in the Denver's Art District on Santas Fe, and about half of Knotty Tie Co.'s staff is refugees or asylum-seekers.

This year, Priest says his company will bring in about $1 million in revenue -- that's up from approximately $45,000 during Knotty Tie Co.'s first year in business. "We've been adding staff and investing in improving operations and customer experience; we have more inquiries than we can handle right now," admits Priest.

Most of Knotty Tie Co.'s sales are online. "We also do really well at local flea markets, and our shop is open daily for retail, design and manufacturing," says Priest, adding, "We love the local presence."

Challenges: Being both a seller and a manufacturer. "Manufacturing and sales should be increasing at the same rate, but that doesn't always happen as smoothly as we'd like," says Priest, adding, "If we have a really good sales month, then the next month we have to increase manufacturing capacity dramatically." The flip also holds: "You can have one bad sales month, and then our manufacturing staff is way too big."

Opportunities: Knotty Tie Co. plans to add up to twenty new employees in the next year and a half. "We're excited to continue to employ refugees and asylees, and to help them improve their livelihood," Priest says. The goal is to introduce more products -- and possibly crossover into home goods (think: curtains). "We want to position ourselves as the most ethical manufacturer of awesome, custom goods," says Priest.

Needs: "We're really struggling to find space in Denver," says Priest, citing a specific shortage of 2,000- to 4,000-square-foot industrial spaces. "We're working with the city and our investors to get into a facility that allows us to grow."