The Ties That Bind
By virtually any traditional metric, Knotty Tie Company is a success. Since launching in 2013, the Lincoln Park-based purveyor of custom-made ties, scarves, and pocket squares has enjoyed soaring revenues, a growing staff, and the move to bigger facilities. Earlier this year there were visits from presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
But there is another, less conventional metric that may be even more significant: They have the best lunch hour for miles. If that seems an odd way to measure success, it is. Wonderfully so.
Knotty Tie’s in-house design team hails from at least six different countries; they are refugees who have fled troubled homelands like Iraq, Congo, and Rwanda. Their paths may be unique, but their shared landing spot is no accident. Co-founders Jeremy Priest and Mark Johnson launched their company on the strength of a social (rather than a business) mission—one committed to helping an underserved population find good work.
“It wasn’t necessarily an affinity for ties in the beginning,” Priest told The Denver Channel in August. “It was actually just the desire to help resettle refugees.” He added, “We decided that we would create a company that would really have fair compensation, benefits and a flexible schedule, so they could work as little or as much as they need.” Indeed, no one at Knotty Tie makes less than $15 per hour, and opportunities for advancement come standard.
This commitment to community development caught the eye of Tara Bardeen, founder of Go Play Denver, who recently launched a new eight-week series called Neighborhood Ties with History Colorado. By using the origins and flavors of historic city neighborhoods as inspiration, Knotty Tie designers create unique textiles made available as a tie, bow tie, scarf, or pocket square. “I had seen Knotty Tie on Instagram,” said Bardeen. “I thought their designs were great, and they looked pretty agile. But it also resonated with me how they’re engaged in the community in a meaningful way.”
Which brings us back to the lunch hour as a measure of success. When Bardeen toured the Knotty Tie facilities, she was struck by the power of their family-style meals. It was here that designers—refugees from distant continents—brought native foods to share with their co-workers. It was here that connections formed and relationships deepened. It was here that a niche startup became something more: A fast-growing business every bit as authentic as the ties they produce.
Data on communal lunches won’t show up in Knotty Tie’s glowing financial reports any time soon. But that doesn’t mean the two aren’t related.
-Story by Charlie Keaton