Teens’ bow tie business blossoms
Jack Sivan’s bow tie obsession began after he read a book about how a man’s fashion choices can make him more powerful.
His friend Akiva Jackson got into bow ties as a way to shake up his style when he started wearing a back brace to treat his curvature of the spine.
For the teenagers, friends since elementary school, the retro neckwear has blossomed from a distinctive sartorial choice into a bona fide business. They launched Jack & Jacksons in March and spend what little free time they have cutting up old neckties and sewing them into eye-catching pieces: flowered ties, cashmere ties, ties with a chicken pattern. The biggest seller: silk bow ties for prom.
At a time when young entrepreneurs are known more for designing apps, Jackson, 16, and Sivan, 17, are going against the high-tech grain, using their hands to make 19th century formalwear. Their slogan is appropriately old-fashioned: “Bow ties for the discerning gentleman.”
Jackson and Sivan, who attend Gann Academy, a Jewish high school in Waltham, have sold only about 40 of their reversible ties so far, at $20 to $30 apiece. But they have tapped into a bow tie revival. Celebrities from pop star Justin Timberlake to soccer player David Beckham are sporting the quirky neckwear, and many bow tie companies have popped up in recent years, including several in Boston.
Another young bow tie maker, an 11-year-old from Memphis, was recently featured on the “Today” show.
“It’s coming back, and we’re kind of riding that wave,” Sivan said.
After a decidedly casual fashion phase in the ’90s, men have been paying more attention to their appearance over the past several years, said Cy Tall, chief marketing officer at Beau Ties Ltd. of Vermont, a bow tie company in Middlebury, Vt.
“Neckwear has been on the rise again, and bow ties have had a major resurgence, particularly among young people,” Tall said. “These are the guys who choose the road less traveled. It’s not just the geeks who wear them anymore.”
Sivan bought his first bow tie at TJ Maxx a few years ago and decided to save money by making another by hand. Two weeks later, he was still at it. Meanwhile, Jackson, who had sewn stuffed animals as a child, found a template online and commandeered his mother’s Bernina sewing machine.
The business is mostly based at Jackson’s house, in Newton Center, in the bedroom of an older sister studying in Israel. It takes about 20 minutes per tie, using fabric or old ties — often the uglier the better — donated by their grandparents and grandparents’ friends.
Bow ties have a connotation of fastidiousness, but its also takes a certain confidence to wear them.
“Nobody makes fun of us, mostly because they’ve never been worn ironically,” said Sivan, who on a recent day was wearing gray wool pants, a blue vest, a brown herringbone sport coat, and a gray, dotted cashmere bow tie. Even his socks were stylish: purple and black argyle.
Jackson, a self-proclaimed “fashion apprentice,” was dressed in a black suit and blue bow tie.
Jackson and Sivan, whose fathers are both MIT professors, are well aware that they are an anomaly among boys their age. Sivan designs costumes for school plays and will attend the Rhode Island School of Design next year to study fashion. Jackson plays violin, belongs to the school feminist club, rides a unicycle, and sometimes wears a top hat.
“I would be perfectly happy living in the 19th century,” said Jackson, laughing as he clarifies: “I mean 19th century in England as a rich, white, Christian scientist who goes on adventures.”
Their business model, however, is strictly 21st century, with multiple social media accounts, a sales platform on the craft site Etsy, and Google Analytics to track visitors to their website,jackandjacksons.com . They model their ties on tree trunks and Jackson’s chickens, which he keeps in a coop he and his mother built in their yard.
Jacob Pinnolis, Jackson’s faculty adviser and a customer, wasn’t surprised when his eclectic student got into bow ties. “It helps to have a little sense of whimsy,” Pinnolis said.
The boys want to expand to include neckties and hair bows. They are training friends to help build their inventory. Sivan, the more serious of the two, can see Jack & Jacksons one day occupying a warehouse. The shaggier and sillier Jackson views the business as more of a side project. Yet he keeps a detailed spreadsheet that calculates, among other things, the wage they would make if they paid themselves: $3.30 an hour. He notes that is 26 times the average Bangladeshi garment worker’s wage.
Jackson’s mother, Claudia Marbach, who teaches at Jewish Community Day School in Watertown, likes the boys’ worldly perspective, including the 10 percent of sales they donate to a charity devoted to stopping human trafficking.
Jackson has always had “serial interests,” said Marbach, as matzo balls boiled on the stove for a Friday night Shabbat dinner. Pokemon, owls, the Keystone XL pipeline. Bow ties are his latest.
“I can’t get to my sewing machine, but that’s OK,” she said.
Marbach is, however, ready for him to get his driver’s license so he can drive himself to the fabric store.