Who doesn't love a good bowtie? Unique and whimsical, they have the ability to immediately give an outfit more personality with a single accessory. So often they've been associated with men's tuxedos and sweater vests, but in the past decade or so, they've finally become the style icon they've always deserved to be.
It's only natural that ties for women would start popping up as well. I'm here to tell you that no one does it better than xoelle. Laura Plouzek designs and handcrafts her colorful selection of bow ties, and each one is more unique than the last. Part of this is because of Laura's use of upcycled materials, but it's also because each design feels special. With such a. niche product, it's a delight to hear her story and how she's grown her business. Read on to hear how Laura got her start with bowties, some of the positives and negatives of using upcycled materials, and how her kids get involved in her business.
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?
A: I fell in love with thrifting in high school (in the 90’s!) and used to collect those fat woven polyester neckties that had those amazing patterns- I planned on gifting them to my future husband. When I did meet my Mr. Awesome, he was strictly a bow tie wearer (it's what caught my eye) and so I decided to turn all of those neckties into bow ties for him. I made hundreds and once I mastered the pattern and the curves I started selling them on Etsy (this was 2008!) and they took off! This was great timing because I had just left my job (teaching high school art, the best job ever) to move across the country with my new husband, and I had the time and resources to lean into it and turn it into a business. I’ve learned SO MUCH over these 11 years and still feel like I’m just getting started!
Q: What was your first product to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?
A: When I first started, back in 2008, I offered a handful of things in my shop: baby quilts, pillow covers, bow ties, and upcycled envelopes and journals- but it was my friends and family buying those things. Strangers were buying the bow ties- and it only took a few months for my to shift my focus to entirely bow ties. For a few years I was the only bow tie maker on Etsy- and then they got trendy. :)
Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions to you starting a business? Were you nervous to share it?
A: They’ve always been so supportive! My parents owned several businesses while I was growing up and I didn’t even hesitate because of their example. My husband is my first mate and I couldn’t do it without him. I’ve never been nervous to share it- I’ve been a maker my whole life and finding a niche where I fit made me want to tell everyone!
Q: Did you work another job while you were starting? How long did it take you to turn this into a full-time venture?
A: I used to teach high school art during the day while waiting tables at night and making and selling handmade stuff online in the cracks of time before I started this business. I got married and moved from one coast to the other and couldn’t find a job and suddenly my rent was paid and I had endless amounts of time. I doubt if I would have ever started xoelle if I hadn’t been jobless. I’m a workaholic! I’m always looking for a way to increase my productivity and income and if it wasn’t for those few sacred months of being unemployed in a new place, I’d probably be doing something very different with my life! I’ve never really been full time even though I don’t do anything else to earn money- as hard as I try I rarely rack up more than 30 work hours a week- I have three kids and time with them is a priority!
Q: What would you say are some of the upsides and some of the negatives of using upcycled materials?
A: The upsides: eco-friendly (I love that the material had another life and comes with a history too!), quality (really great fashion textiles are not available to small scale manufacturers like me), unique, AND I can justify thrifting as part of my job. The downsides: quantities are limited and I often have to break hearts by letting customers know I’m out of a particular print, it’s hard to scale a business that uses so many different fabrics, and it takes more time to source and “harvest” the materials (seam ripping, removing buttons, laundering, etc)- but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Q: I remember the first time I became of your shop was at Dapper Day Expo. What has your experience been like doing events like this? Is it something you’re hoping to do more of?
A: I LOVE Dapper Day (this fall will be my 9th!)- there’s an energy there that’s unlike anything else in this world. It is so much work, but connecting with my customers in real life and giving hugs and bow tie lessons and helping thoughtful people pick out the perfect bow to complete their look brings me so much happiness. That personal connection is hard to replicate when you run a totally online company- so I crave it! I have done other in-person events, but I’ve learned to be really picky about them- bow ties are such a niche market- although I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well they do here in Hawaii!
Q: What do your kids think of your business? Do they like to get involved at all?
A: xoelle is older than my oldest so they’ve never seen me do anything else. They LOVE to help and I give them little jobs to do whenever I can. I try to take one with me on a rotating basis when I do the dapper day expo. We work for two straight days, on our feet, interfacing with all the dapper lads and ladies, and then we look at what we’ve earned and spend 2 days at Disneyland. I always make sure to do the Disney part after the work. I want them to grow up knowing how fulfilling hard work can be and that they can have and be anything they want if they work for it. They all are pretty good at giving bow tie tying lessons and I love that 35 year old men are learning a life skill from an 8 year old boy. :)
Q: What advice do you have for others looking to create and sell a niche product?
A: Always always let what’s inside you guide you. If you’re looking around at what everyone else is doing you’ll get totally lost and discouraged. We each have our own unique strand of weirdness and when you tap into that, that’s the magic. Also- price higher than you think you should, your time and creativity should be valued and if you don’t value it, no one else will.
Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?
A: Gah! That’s so hard! But, currently, it’s the purple striped lady bat tie! (Although the October bow tie of the month might be my favorite of ALL TIME!- it’s just not out yet). :)
Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?
A: I’d love to be a bow tie brand that is instantly recognizable! Like, “oh my goodness, that’s an xoelle!”. I’m expanding to patches and pins next year and eventually, I’d love to have a little studio space that’s accessible to the public where I can meet customers and we can sketch out and build their dream bow ties and patches. And I’d love to work my way into having an employee or two!
Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?
I’m sure I’m missing a bunch!
Follow along with Laura: