Through the building phases of HIM Clothing, Chris and I have met a lot of amazing people. We've met jerky makers, ceramicists, wood workers, alcohol distillers, you name it. Each and every story has resonated with us - taught us a valuable lesson or gave us a secret insight into what it meant to not only make it as a small business owner, but to make it doing what you love.
I've told our story to countless people, yammering on about how Chris and I have been best friends for who knows how long. How, yes, we really do use a vintage Singer Featherweight to make everything (Everything? Yes, everything. Well, except the tie bars and shoe laces). We even bring it to our markets to show to people and they still don't believe us. Suffice to say, we have a story, but I never thought much of it until I gave another small business owner some crucial advice that I have been following for a long time: As makers, we aren't selling a product, we're selling a story.
Then, it hit me: We have a pretty amazing story. After telling it to countless people verbally, I figured that it was about time to write it out and staple it to our website as the first blog post in our new HIM Clothing Blog (HC Blog, for short).
I'll start by saying what I say to most people, that Chris and I have been best friends since we were five-years-old. We suffered through elementary and middle school together, with a brief hiatus in high school, but still managed to graduate college with one another. (If you catch us off guard, you may even hear us call each other 'boo,' that’s how close we are.) Post-graduation, I entered law school, but it quickly became evident that I wouldn't be staying long. Shortly after I started, my mom lost her job and I was forced to drop out, in order to save the cost of tuition. I started work as a bartender to pay for my own bills and help out around the house. Soon, I realized that leaving law school was a saving grace and that I wanted to do something more creative with my life.
I had been into men's fashion for a while and was dabbling with the idea of getting a formal education, but every program I looked into was geared towards women. I decided that one day I would sit down, rip a tie apart, and figure out how it was made; after all, ties couldn't be too complicated, right? I was wrong. After sifting through the wreckage of an old Christmas tie, decorated with the ever-festive imagery on Santa Claus golfing, I realized that ties were a lot more complicated than they led on to be.
After measuring each piece, making my own templates, and buying some fabric, I was finally ready to start construction on my very first tie. The only thing I was missing was a sewing machine; I assumed we had one lying around the house like most families. Little did I know that the machine we had available originally belonged to my great-grandmother: a 1957 Singer Featherweight 221. My mom showed me the ins and outs of the machine: how to thread it, how to reload the bottom spool, how to adjust the tension. It would take me a couple of years to really learn everything about the machine, but I had a good start and was ready to make something awesome.
Looking back, my first tie was a disaster: the tipping was all wrong; the thread was too weak and snapped in the middle of the tie; the fabric was cheap and the keeper, to this day, is hanging on for dear life. But, man, was I proud of that tie! I even made an awful pocket square to go with it, fashioned like a pillow case, but leaving the frayed edges intact; I figured that I could just hide those bits in my pocket while wearing it. I showed it off to everyone and decided that I should keep at it and made a couple for my friends, Isaiah and Max, as birthday presents. Isaiah, Max, and I were all getting into fashion around the same time and were constantly inspiring one another, so it only seemed right to make a couple of ties for them as well. Once they were finished, I was incredibly proud: in front of me were three neckties, made from scratch, by yours truly. As an artist, I'm used to naming all of my pieces, so it seemed fitting to give each tie a name: mine was GHugh, Isaiah's was The Captain, and Max's was Sugar Lips.
After that, I decided to design a logo, take some pictures, and post everything online. A few weeks later I had people asking me if I had started a tie company, so I decided to run with it. I had the smallest inkling of a vision, but I needed help.
Enter: Chris Reynders.
Chris, as I have already stated, my best friend of all time, is one of the most creative people that I know. Not only is he talented, but he has a way of seeing things that I don't. If I'm having an issue with something, chances are that he can figure it out and vice versa. He's the Ying to my Yang, if you will. I brought him over to my house, showed him how the sewing machine worked, and together we figured out how to make neckties.
We watched every video we could find, read every bit of advice, and took apart countless neckties; my basement looked like a fabric bomb had exploded. We finally decided we were set and put together our first series of ties, The Premiere Line, which consisted of four ties: Bloom, Sweet Tangerine, Wine and Dine, and Yesterday. We put together as many as we could, launched our website, and started promoting the business. As you can imagine, like with any small business, things didn't take off immediately. Even though we loved what we were doing, we didn't really know how to go about selling our ties. We were fortunate enough to attend two, small handmade markets here in Denver and, across the board, we sold a grand total of three ties and two pocket squares. Suffice to say, we wanted to do better.
The next year, we completely revamped everything. We bought higher quality fabrics from Fancy Tiger Crafts (a locally owned Denver fabric store). We designed more complex patterns and had them printed on 100% organic cotton. We completely redesigned our pocket squares and started making bow ties. We started making our own packaging, designing our own marketing materials, and redesigned our website from the bottom-up. However, the biggest change had to do with the way we construct our neckties. After arguing over construction one day, Chris and I turned to the internet for help. Traditionally ties are made in three pieces, but Chris wanted to switch to two pieces, to save on cutting time. I told him that wasn't how it was done and when he asked me why, I honestly didn't have an answer for him.
Later that night, I turned to the internet for help and, fortuitously, stumbled across a gem that has influenced us to this date. While it didn't have the exact answer I was looking for, I found a blog written by a self-made tailor named David Coffin. While the blog had been inactive for nearly five years, it had a very small community of dedicated readers. Though they had seemed to trickle out as the years had gone by, the blog was still active, and one post in particular stood out to me: How to Make a Necktie. I decided to take a look and, as it turned out, Mr. Coffin had written and hand illustrated the literal handbook on How to Make a Necktie. I couldn't believe my eyes and immediately wanted to get a closer look. There was a purchase option for a digital PDF version of the handbook and I immediately bought a copy. Shortly after, the PDF was sent to my email and I printed out two copies. I read through mine while the ink was still warm, hoping to find an answer to Chris' question, but couldn't find anything. As a last ditch effort, I emailed Mr. Coffin and, surprisingly, he responded within hours. While he didn't have a definitive answer for me, he could say this: Most ties had three pieces and, while he didn’t know why, that's just how it always was; while three pieces wouldn't save on cutting time, it would save on fabric costs, allowing us to use the smaller corners of our fabric. I told Chris his answer, and that was enough for him. However, after seeing the handbook, Chris could care less about the debate.
Together we read it, front-to-back, not only gaining valuable insight on how to make a necktie, but learning their history, how styles, cuts, and even sewing techniques have varied over time. We decided to take our newfound information to heart and completely relearned how to make ties. In the end, we came up with something head and shoulders above what we were making before. We announced this discovery with a new line of ties, appropriately titled the Vitruvian Line, named after Leonard da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, which was meant to illustrate how to draw a man with perfect proportions. To us, it meant making a truly studied and carefully crafted piece of artwork.
After that, Chris and I have been running toward the horizon, constantly refining our craft, creating new products, and expanding more than we ever could have imagined. We're still a dedicated two man team, running all of the ins and outs of our small, but steadily growing, business. Three years ago I would have never imagined doing something like this, but thanks to the support of our friends, family, and countless strangers, Chris and I have an opportunity to do something we love and make a living out of it. Accessories may seem like an odd way for two artists to express themselves, but to me, it's just another medium. Chris is working with his hands, much like he used to with ceramics; I get to design patterns, match colors, and fill a blank canvas, incredibly similar to when I used to paint. Creativity and artistry is a talent that not a lot of people have and Chris and I are putting it to good use, trying our hardest to make a living by doing something we love.
And that, my friends, is the history of how two Denver boys started a handmade accessory company out of nothing more than a few worn out ties, two fifty-year-old sewing machines, and a truly amazing friendship.
Here's to you, boo! I couldn't imagine doing this with anyone else!