I grumbled at the iPad chiming next to me. Was it really 8am already? Cursed-be my past self for arranging such an early Saturday appointment.
After the standard awakening procedures, I noted a stubborn mental fog. It matched the gray hue outside my window. Tea didn’t help, though I fixed myself several hot cups before I left and took a roadie.
Heading on empty roads an hour outside Tampa, I thought about what my visit might be like with this family of neckwear makers, tucked away in the suburbs. I almost fell asleep for the stillness and puffy sky.
I’d received an Ella Bing wooden bow tie as a Christmas gift, and debuted it the week before, to much shock and delight at work and on Instagram (see above). I am not known for dressing up, especially not in full tie garb. “Do you have a job interview?” HA.
What I found at house # 2317 was a touching, beautiful story. One that reflected my love for symbolism, quality, and fashion.
I left after spending an hour with the Krauses, feeling the deep necessity to tell their story carefully and thoughtfully. They were that warm to me, their earnest attitudes that refreshing.
After the sudden death of their son Matthew, a bow tie devotee, Lisa and David joined Matthew’s older brother Brent to launch Ella Bing. From their first sale, they have developed organically, with only the best intentions – to honor their son, and offer something unique and affordable.
Together, the three sell handmade fabric bow ties, in prep basics like madras, for an accessible $40. They make seasonal pieces, collegiate-themed ties, and use outdated, oversized neck ties in an upcycling process to make “new” vintage bow ties.
Like any business, they started out with rudimentary samples and patterns they guessed would sell. Lisa had previous experience sewing, and frequently altered her family’s clothes, so assembling a bow tie wasn’t an insurmountable challenge. She showed me her process, which is simple and clean.
The real excitement comes in with dual patterns, which can be tied and worn in various configurations. Paisley sells well, matched with seersucker or polka dots. We are talking about bow ties, a staple of dandyism, after all.
I’ve always loved pops of floral as way to soften the masculine aesthetic, which works perfectly in bow tie format.
The company’s first name comes from Brent’s toddler Ella. Bing just flowed well, apparently. For a Florida company, a tropical flamingo mascot differentiates it from Old South brands with similar products, and gives the brand a dash of humor.
Following their initial success via Instagram (@ellabingbowties) and other social media, the three brainstormed another niche for themselves: wood.
David had done wood-working in the past, and already had all the tools in their garage – 20 feet from Lisa’s “sweatshop”. SNAP! After some primitive attempts, David found his groove: carefully carving and sanding the wooden ties with folds and knots to look nearly identical to fabric.
The process involves sourcing all manner of timber, from all over the world. I spotted blocks of spalted tamarind and black ebony, both of which I guessed would make dashing bow ties.
Because David cuts, carves, sands, and polishes each tie by hand, no two are alike. His technique is always improving, as evidenced by the attention to detail on his latest outputs compared with his first.
Together, Lisa and David compose a harmonious partnership of skill sets and hobbies. They mask a lingering sensitivity regarding their deceased son with enthusiasm for the business they hope to build in his likeness.
As another nod to their altruistic motivations and local commitment, the business donates 10% of its earnings to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
Brent, the youthful father and business manager, handles many of the other elements involved in marketing, selling, and distributing the baubles. Locally, you can find them at High Cotton Living in Hyde Park and Black & Denim in Ybor City.
I found Ella Bing online, and then on social media, which it already has a healthy following on.
As I sat across from Lisa’s sewing machine, the three told me about orders heading to Brazil, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and several custom orders that have come in from a customer in Detroit.
In 2014, Brent is shooting for better local wholesale distribution, at curated stores like the Oxford Exchange (where I think they would fit nicely), and maintaining their locally-sourced policy for raw materials.
They are also experimenting with other product lines, like standard neck ties, tie bars, and headbands.
What’s so endearing about the Kraus family is their humble attitude about the whole operation. David recalled his thought when he created his first wooden bow ties – “who will want to buy this stuff?”
The three just want to enjoy themselves, continue to evolve, and always remember for whom they toil.
Having heard their story and seen their creative space, I will wear my Ella Bing bow ties with a sense of satisfaction. I’ll know they support good people, are made with love, and are one of a kind.
Find Ella Bing online to browse their multitude of slick offerings. I’d also be more than happy to help you pick one out!