So there I am shopping in Fabrications, a must-visit fabric shop on Wellington Street West, when I overhear a conversation. A fellow who I’d noticed scouring the shelves and pulling out fabric bolts is now talking with the owner. Apparently he has a business here in Ottawa with his buddy selling bow ties through their online store. They call themselves High Tide Bow Ties.
“You should reach out to Apartment613” suggests the owner of Fabrications.
At which point I say hello, and, “Cloth bow ties? I’d love to write a story on that.”
Mackenzie King and Matthew White, owners of High Tide Bow Ties, have a story behind their business that involves tennis games, local talent, and nurturing a strong product. Whether you’re dreaming of starting a company or just planning your next outfit, High Tide Bow Ties shares a story you’ll want to notice.
“I work at Shopify,” explains Mac during our conversation, “and realized that I wanted to do something else as well. I mean, I’m helping entrepreneurs all day, and realized – yeah, I’d like to take a stab at it.”
That ‘something else’ was brainstormed during a tennis match with his friend, now business partner, Matt.
Mac explains the epiphany: “All of a sudden it hit me; three months earlier I’d been to a wedding in Toronto and I’d worn a bow tie … I’d never worn one before, I’d just picked one up in the spur of the moment, and I got lots of compliments.”
It felt like a good idea, but first they had to learn more. “Basically, we looked at search engine results. There’s something called Google Trends, and you can look into what words are being searched more and the trajectory of search terms. We looked into bow ties and terms around bow ties and found it had a 300% increase in the last year.”
Bow ties weren’t only growing in popularity, but they made sense for an online store. “They’re small, they’re lightweight, they’re fun to sell, and they’re something to get people talking. When I say, ‘I have a bowtie store,’ immediately everyone knows what that is.”
After putting out a call for a seamstress on Kijiji and landing a great local business women named Aida, they began playing with prototypes. As Mac explains, starting a business means taking one challenge at a time.
“We stumbled through everything. It was out of pure need that everything happened. So one day it was like we have to make the bow ties nice; and then it was we need to give them to people, so we had to look for boxes.
“We linked up with a local business called Pritchard Packaging. We thought we’d put a sticker on each box, and the owner Cal Pritchard suggested, “Well how about stamping it?” We looked into getting a stamp. We send him a Photoshop file of our logo, and two weeks later he sends us a custom made six inch stamp that we now use to stamp press all of our boxes.”
From the branding, to the website and especially to the bow ties, I get a sense of joyfulness in looking over Mac and Matt’s products. Scrolling through their store feels like visiting a candy shop with all the vibrant colours. Bow ties make a statement, a creative, individualist kind of statement, but even so – it’s their aspiration to stay grounded and leave the high fashion to someone else.
“We’re trying to make products for dudes just like us who are going to a wedding and want something fun to wear,” says Mac.
So what is next for High Tide Bow Ties?
“I think we’re going to redouble down, make sure we have the best possible bow ties one year from now in a number of different materials. More options, more colours, more materials, but the same product. The ultimate goal is being an internationally recognized brand. Having our bow ties sold around Canada.”
But even with big aspirations, Mac still shares a sense of keeping it simple.
“We like our things to grow organically, that’s how our business has grown. We are putting a good thing out into the world, and people are reacting to it however they will.”