December 21, 2020

Outstanding on the small and exquisite collar

Regardless of the message, bow ties get noticed, as do the people who sport them.Not everyone can pull one off  or tie one on. Those who wear bow ties are a rarefied set. And for many bow tie enthusiasts around the country, their bow tie mecca is Beau Ties Ltd of Vermont: a modern, one-story manufacturing facility in a Middlebury industrial park. There, bow tie aficionados are occasionally seen getting their pictures taken in front of the giant polka-dotted bow tie out front.Never heard of Beau Ties? That’s unsurprising in Vermont, where few people routinely wear ties of any kind. According to Elizabeth Smith, copresident and CEO of Beau Ties, most of the company’s clients live out of state and buy their products online or through their catalogs.

But this predominantly retail business, now in its 26th year, boasts an impressive clientele of famous bow tie-wearing blokes: the late popcorn entrepreneur Orville Redenbacher, science educator Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and retired “CBS News Sunday Morning” host Charles Osgood, who has his own signature line of bow ties with the company.Beau Ties has also produced ties for the Obama White House, Tiffany & Co., PBS, and countless colleges, prep schools and fraternal organizations. It’s also the official tie maker for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Vermont Statehouse. And its private-label clients include fine menswear retailers Ben Silver, Barneys New York and Brooks Brothers.On a reporter’s recent tour of the facility, Smith and fellow copresident Cy Day Tall rarely referred to their clientele as “customers.”

Instead, they were “our guys” or “our fellas.” While the bow tie market isn’t huge, or exclusively male, the people who purchase their bow ties, neckties and other fashion accessories  cummerbunds, cufflinks, suspenders, cravats, pocket squares — tend to return time and again. Often they’ll phone the company and ask to speak to a specific employee who helped them in the past.In our mind, we’re a family business,” explained Smith, who splits management duties with Tall. Smith handles customer service and sales, while Tall is the chief marketing officer and “wordsmith” of the catalog, the mainstay of their retail business.Beau Ties’ familial feel extends to its staff, too. Of the 30 employees, several are mother-daughter or grandparent-grandchild pairs. Many, including Smith, have been with Beau Ties 20 years or more. All but three are women.

The company also hires no seasonal help, Smith noted, so that everyone can earn a decent wage with benefits.Notwithstanding its reputation for formal attire, Beau Ties is actually a casual and relaxed workplace, where several seamstresses were listening to music on headphones and joking among themselves while sewing. Zooey, a small black pug, and Margy, an energetic Welsh corgi, enthusiastically greeted a visiting reporter.Beau Ties was founded in 1993 by Bill Kenerson and his wife, Deborah Venman. Kenerson, a native of New Haven, Conn., and a Marine Corps veteran who attended Yale University, moved to Vermont in 1978 to buy the Killington Country Resort. A year later he took a job at Simmonds Precision Products in Vergennes, where he worked until 1990. In 1991, then-governor Richard Snelling tapped him to serve as commissioner of economic development.

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