By Nanette D. Massey
Bow ties used to be the signature of the buttoned-up, conservative look for men's clothing. Now singer Janelle Monae, OutKast's Andre 3000, and Bill Nye the Science Guy proudly sport them in a nod to a kind of ironic heresy. Today, they're everything but meant to be worn unnoticed in the back study room of some library.
Taking note of this wrinkle in fashion and riding it all the way to the bank is 11-year old Buffalo businessman Shelden Gibbs. This sixth grader is the founder and momentum behind Classic Knot where he sells, you guessed it, bow ties. Polka-dotted, printed, paisley, plaid, or just plain black, there is something for every fashion renegade on your holiday gift list at his website, www.ClassicKnot.com.
Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention. Shelden himself was a bow tie wearer for years prior. The inspiration for the business came because he "couldn't find ties in stores that was poppin'." Taking matters into his own hands, he went to his mother, Rhonda Woods, with the idea to start a business. "Oh boy...", she says, was her initial reaction. She characterizes Shelden as one who gets really psyched about a new idea in the beginning but, as is typical of kids his age, can lack long term follow through. She's got the lesson books, various shelved musical instruments, and sports team uniforms gathering dust in the back of the closet to bear out her claims. Shelden, on the other hand, describes himself by saying "I'm not afraid to try new things, even if I'm not going to be good at it."
It appears the bow tie business is going to be the one that sticks. He went on YouTube, and invested considerable time into teaching himself how to sew. Each of the ties are made by hand. Shelden estimates that he ships out between 50 to 100 units in an average week. With the holiday shopping season now upon us, he expects that number to multiply. To keep up with the orders, Shelden is blessed to have a corps of friends and family at the ready to help. He is building his brand by making appearances and setting up shop at trade shows and conventions. One such convention is taking him to Atlanta, Georgia, later this month. Still, a good 80% of Classic Knot's business is from orders sourced through the website. They come from all over the U.S., and he can remember one off the top of his head all the way from the Republic of Colombia. Locally, all three of the major network news channels have done profiles on Sheldon's business.
He's also earned shout-outs from radio station WBLK, and been given a "co-sign" by the men's high styling blog, BuffaloDandy.com Bringing the support he has gotten from Buffalo's Black community full circle, Shelden was instrumental in organizing the Classic Knot Back2School Jam at the end of August. The outdoor block party featured a bounce house, d.j., games and vendor's tables. The highlight of the event was the giving away of five hundred backpacks filled with children's school supplies with the coordinated help of Walmart and Say Yes to Education, Buffalo.
When not working at expanding his bow tie empire, Shelden is a steady B+ student at Tapestry Charter School. His favorite subjects are science and English language arts. Being in charge of a business has forced the eleven year old into a very grown up acquaintance with the importance of time management. High grades take priority over everything else in his household. He also plays on his school's basketball team, and blows saxophone in the 6th grade school band. With what time he has left, he is an NBA Golden State Warriors fan, and loves to follow pro wrestling.
In the future, look for Shelden behind a bench wearing a black robe and handling a gavel. "I'm going to be a bow tie-wearing judge. With more African American judges, the laws would change", he says, "and it would change how people are treated differently by their skin color." For more info about Shelden Gibbs and Classic Knots call (716) 544-8840, go to his website, or look him up on Facebook.