Co-founders Mark Johnson and Jerecmy Priest find their growing business at the center the national election and a movement to make more apparel in the U.S.
In three short years, Knotty Tie Co. has risen to national prominence: U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visited in early 2016, then Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stopped by in August after mentioning ties made in Colorado during her acceptance speech a week earlier.
It all started when Priest, the company's president, noticed a need for ongoing workforce opportunities for Colorado's refugees and asylum-seekers. After serving in the military and graduating from Metropolitan State University of Denver, he was volunteering with We Made This, one of the African Community Center's programs for refugees. 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 he says, "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. "We have three different types of scarves now," Priest clarifies. He and Johnson are currently testing socks, prototyping vests, and exploring home goods.
All products are handmade in a facility in the Denver's Art District on Santa Fe. In March 2016, Knotty Tie relocated -- but it didn't go far: The new site is half a block from the old one. "Our previous facility wasn't designed for the growth we were experiencing, or for manufacturing in general," Priest says, adding, "We were looking for a long-term partner." The Urban Land Conservancy fit that bill, and Knotty Tie now leases from the organization, which is "dedicated to preserving the cultural integrity of local neighborhoods," as Priest puts its. The new space is 4,000 square feet, and was once an auto garage.
For 2016, Priests projects the company will hit 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're investing in other footprints, and I'm sure we'll have a local presence at flea markets come holiday season," Priest says.
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. has brought on 10 employees over the last year, and plans to add 10 more in 2017. "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."
Needs: Knotty Tie found its new manufacturing plant, but is still in need of space. "In the next two years, we'll be looking for retail locations for a physical storefront on a main street," says Priest.