For Knotzland, it’s about the People as Much as the Product

For Knotzland founder and CEO Nisha Blackwell, it’s not just a bow tie.

It’s a vote for sustainability. It’s bolstering a local economy. It’s high-skill labor for a flexible workforce.

And yes, it’s also a striking neck accessory. But, to call Knotzland simply a bow tie company would be underselling the core principles that’s brought it where it is today. It’s a bow tie company that cares deeply about doing good while building a business.

“We like to educate our customers to think about sustainability, and what it means for fashion,” says Blackwell. “It’s exciting when a customer gets it, and in turn becomes an advocate for the product and the mission. That’s how we make an impact, we can talk about sustainability, labor, and how each piece can tell a unique story.”

Photo Credit: Knotzland Bowtie Co.

Photo Credit: Knotzland Bowtie Co.

A self-taught sewer, Blackwell started Knotzland in 2014 from the ironing board in her living room. She was creating hair bows as a gift for friends. Using scraps of thrifted fabric to create unique designs, Blackwell’s bows took off as friends and strangers started placing orders. From there, the bow evolved from one worn on the head, to a bow tie around the neck.

In the half decade since inception, not much has changed around the sewing process. The bows are still crafted by hand, but they’re now assembled by one of Knotzland’s local team of fifteen women as part of the company’s “Sew from Home” program.

It’s been empowering, says Blackwell, to be able to employ locally and provide flexible work to an often overlooked population. “It’s mostly people who want their time back,” Blackwell explains. “They’ve struggled to find flex work that not only fits their needs, but also compensates them fairly.”

As demand grows, Knotzland continues its production the same way it always has. “We get a lot of pressure around that topic,” says Blackwell, “but we’re not going to outsource.”

Another aspect that won’t change? Knotzland’s commitment to sustainability. Blackwell and her team have rescued just over 2,500 pounds of fabrics and textiles from landfills since starting Knotzland. That’s because each tie is crafted from reclaimed fabric. At first, Blackwell created the ties from vintage fabric and scraps she’d collected along the years.

Friends and fans of Knotzland were constantly bringing Blackwell scraps and bolts of unused fabric. On occasion, Knotzland will return to its roots and make one-off bow ties for special circumstances. “Clients have brought in a departed grandfather’s beloved shirt to make bow ties for the family,” Blackwell says. Nowadays, the company relies on donations from corporations, designers, and local businesses.

Due, in part, to both booming business and the constant influx of fabrics, the company plans to make a transition into a newer, and larger, studio/retail space on South Trenton Avenue in Wilkinsburg. The space’s grand opening is slated for Saturday, September 7. “We’re going to have to start telling people to come take this extra fabric,” Blackwell jokes. “But I never thought we would have this space.”

The location will serve as a studio for assembling ties, as well as a retail space. Having more square footage gives Knotzland the ability to expand the seamstress program, as well as teach classes.

Because on top of being an advocate for sustainability, the slow clothes movement, and local employment, Blackwell hopes to give back to the local entrepreneur community through education and mentorship. Assistance and education from Thrill Mill (now Ascender), Urban Innovation21, and Chatham’s small business incubator, has helped Knotzland, “grow in ways I never imagined,” explains Blackwell.

“It felt scary and empowering to take my destiny into my own hands,” Blackwell reflects, “But why would I continue to put my livelihood and destiny in the hands of other people?” Now, she wants to pay it forward, helping other small business owners achieve growth.

The bow tie might be small, but its impacts, for both Blackwell and the community she’s building, is mighty.

EMMA DIEHL - Contributing Writer

Emma is a Pittsburgh-based technology and lifestyle writer, covering everything from machine learning in law enforcement to historic building preservation. Her byline has appeared on XOJane, NPR, Huffington Post, NEXTPittsburgh, and Very Local.

Originally published on Thursday, September 5th, 2019