Many friends promise to keep in touch while one is in Portland and the other is in, say, Taiwan. Jahmal Landers and Jiah Sisco, the founders of Bowyer and Fletcher, went a little further: they started a bow tie business.
“I met Jiah when I was 12 years old,” Jahmal says. “Some years later, I moved to Taiwan and was teaching English there. I lived with some Englishmen and learned a little bit about the history of British fashion and really got into dressing well.”
Newly equipped with an eye for sartorial detail, Jahmal soon noticed a shortage of bow ties in his host country. His logical next step was to take a sewing class and spend many a late night crafting the gentleman’s staple before teaching English the next morning.
After handmaking enough bow ties to feel confident in his product, Jahmal started working on a brand strategy and approached his longtime friend back home about building a website.
Jiah was immediately hooked. In his friend’s simple request, he saw the possibilities in growing the young company at that place and time, and suggested a partnership to strengthen the business with both of their respective talents: Jiah as the digital mind, and Jahmal as the analogue one.
“Around that time in 2012, there was something happening in Portland where people were starting smaller businesses to compete with these larger businesses on a local level,” Jiah says. “We had a local bread company, local grocery stores, et cetera, so I just wanted to continue that trend by providing bow ties for people in Portland.”
IN A NAME
As the new partners set about the task of naming their fledgling company, Jahmal looked back for inspiration … and then back even further.
“Growing up, I was into archery,” he says. “I started thinking about its origins and found that there is no real known origin—it was on every continent around the world even before written language. It was like globalization before globalization was even an issue.”
Finding notion of this early global interconnectedness powerful, he suggested the name Bowyer and Fletcher to Jiah: In archery, a bowyer crafts the bow, while the fletcher takes care of the arrow.
FROM GLOBAL TO LOCAL
The Bowyer and Fletcher business model took a bit of finessing to get just right, as most do. In striving to adhere strictly to their handmade ethos, in the early days Jahmal made even the fabric from scratch. When that proved unsustainable for the young company, the two men began sourcing textiles and hiring local seamstresses to assemble the ties on site.
“There’s production for this kind of stuff in Taiwan,” says Jahmal, “But we decided that we wanted to have Portland artisans making our ties because we can have a lot of control over quality.”
As it turns out, running a local bow tie business comes with several benefits. If Jahmal and Jiah find a flaw in any batch, they can correct it quickly. From the hardware they use to craft the ties to the boxes they use to ship them, every aspect of production begins and ends close to home.
“People don’t know how connected we are to the product,” Jiah says. “Every step of the way, we handle every tie that comes through.”
In all respects, Bowyer and Fletcher is an exclusively made-in-Portland company. And this impacts everything from their business model to their unique product: you won’t find it elsewhere.
“It gives us the opportunity to do creative things,” Jahmal says. “If we decided to do new hardware or something, we could go to a jeweler right here in town and he could come up with ideas with us. There’s a lot of benefit to working with people you can sit across the table from.”
THE BIG MOMENTS
These days, with a product line that includes bow ties, neckties and pocket squares, Bowyer and Fletcher finds itself making Portland—from TV personalities to pro athletes to your average groomsmen—a little more dashing.
“There was this one guy who was on the way to a wedding and called me,” Jahmal laughs. “He said, I’m going to the wedding of the girl that got away and I want a bow tie—an “I object” bow tie. We kind of thought that was crazy but, at the same time, I thought it was really cool that we could give him the armor to go into this situation.”
For Jahmal and Jiah, there’s beauty in providing ties to customers—because it creates ties with them, as well.
“I feel like when we’re able to provide a tie to someone, it allows them to put their best foot forward,” Jahmal says. “Whether they’re going through a job interview, about to be happily wed or just going out for a night on the town. That knowledge that something we produced is around this person’s neck while they’re having the time of their life is really important to us.”