LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – If your guy digs the unique yet polished look of a bowtie but has a tough time getting it tied just right, he might want to try wood.
That’s right, wood.
Wood won’t wrinkle, lose its shape, end up stained with dribbles of spaghetti sauce and best of all, never requires you learn how to tie a perfect knot. And that’s not all.
Storywood Bowties, handcrafted in Louisville, are truly conversation starters.
"We specifically create each bowtie from wood that has a story, most often from historic renovations," said Chelsea Hackbarth, who assembles the bow ties at her local shop. "When a historic building is being repaired, we take the old lumber and make it into something that can be seen and loved for years to come."
In Storywood’s Old Louisville workshop, Hackbarth is currently working with wood from the barn of racehorse superstar Man-O-War, staves used in the bourbon making process at Maker’s Mark Distillery, floor joists removed after a fire at Whiskey Row, cast-offs from the production of Louisville Slugger bats, pillars that were once part of Churchill Downs racetrack and floorboards from the basketball court at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington.
Phew. That’s a lot of local history.
"How else is that story going to be preserved?" she asked. "There are pictures of Memorial Coliseum but you don’t wear those around your neck and tell people about them."
The bow ties are cut from 4-5 millimeter slats of wood which are then etched on a laser cutter with various patterns including stripes, circles, tiny bourbon barrels, Fleur De Lis, plaid patterns and more.
The lightweight ties are made by placing one bow on top of another, which gives them a three-dimensional appearance.
"We just did a custom bowtie with the skyline of Chicago. We can really do almost anything," said Hackbarth. Another custom order came from a family who had taken down a 100-year-old barn on their property and wanted to preserve it in the form of a bow tie.
While Hackbarth is the muscle behind Storywood Bowties – she individually sands, glues and shellacs each piece – John Davenport offers the technical know-how and Ali Muhammad is the founder and creator behind the Storywood Bowtie concept.
"Ali is full of energy and amazing ideas but when John met him at First Build (a community space for idea generation backed by GE Appliances at the University of Louisville), he was only able to turn out a few bow ties at a time," Hackbarth said.
The lower turnout was OK until the Storywood Bowties website launched and orders started pouring in from across the country.
"John figured out the workflow to allow us to make a higher volume of product," said Hackbarth. He also uses computer programs to produce and enhance the designs for new and custom items.
Today Storywood has added wooden pocket squares and cuff-links to their inventory and other ideas may soon be added, including wood buttons for men’s shirts.
"This historic wood is precious and there is only so much of it so we want to use as much as possible in as many different ways as we can," Hackbarth said.
Storywood has given Mayor Greg Fischer a custom tie with Fleur De Lis and the Louisville city emblem.
"I have seen him wear it five or six times," said Hackbarth, "and that makes me really proud."
Hackbarth and Davenport are designing a bow tie for television personality Ellen DeGeneres, and another for Cincinnati Bengals football player Dahani Jones, who heads a non-profit called "Bowtie Cause" which supports different charities through the sales of different bow ties.
Donating to non-profits is also part of the Storywood brand. For each tie sold, StoryWood donates $1 to Trees Louisville, a non-profit which plants trees locally. In addition, five percent of sales go to WaterStep, a non-profit with a mission of providing clean water to the developing world.
Each handmade piece comes in an elegant leather and wood box with a StoryPak that details the historical significance of the wood’s origin.
"If you are looking for a truly unique gift for someone special, a wooden bow tie with its very own history is a perfect choice," Hackbarth said.