By Christopher Smith
Cole Calfee, Robert Hardaway, Cole Townsend and Sam Wilson — four lifelong friends — know they won’t see much of each other after they graduate from their different high schools this May. But they have one thing that will bring them back together from time to time.
The four seniors — Calfee and Hardaway at Dalton High, Townsend at Christian Heritage, and Wilson at Morris Innovative — have made a business out of bow ties. What started as a sketch of a bow tie on a napkin has turned into the Bowtie Brand, an online business that sells several kinds of bow ties, shirts and hats.
“We were broke,” Calfee said. “So we all started brainstorming ways to maybe get some money. We had no idea it would take off like it has.”
The first bow tie was sold to Hardaway’s little brother, then family and friends bought a few more. Now, the four friends are negotiating with a manufacturing company in New York to take over production, introducing silk ties into their spring inventory.
“With someone else making the bow ties we can act more like managers,” Hardaway said. “Which is great because it takes a long time to make a bow tie ourselves.”
Making bow ties is where the 1953 Singer sewing machine, which sits in a second-floor room at Calfee’s house, came into the business.
“We went on Craigslist and found someone was selling a sewing machine down in Atlanta.” Hardaway said. “So we went to meet him. He was an interesting character. He took sewing machines very seriously and wanted to make sure we were putting it to good use.”
It seems they did, sewing late into the night to meet increasing demand, said Calfee. The friends are athletic — Townsend plays basketball for Christian Heritage, Calfee and Hardaway play football for Dalton High, and all four golf — which means there have been plenty of jokes.
“Some of our friends have gotten onto us for our sewing,” Townsend said, laughing. “The idea that a couple of guys like us go home and sew is funny, I guess.”
Hardaway says he likes it, though.
“For awhile, it was very relaxing and I was doing it with my friends so I enjoyed it,” he said. “But it got to a point where demand was so strong that we had a hard time keeping up with it.”
It takes about 20 minutes to create a bow tie on the sewing machine, said Hardaway. And while they were keeping up with demand, they were also keeping their parents from sleeping.
“We’d wake up in bed at night and we could hear the sewing machine peddle echoing throughout the house,” Eric Calfee, Cole’s father, said. “Bow tie central had moved upstairs and that’s where Cole and his friends would be, working well into the night. It didn’t bother us though.
“And it’s amazing to me because they were already exhausted from sports or studying for finals. The crazy thing is they make very good ties. I’ve always liked bow ties, I wear them a lot, and they make really good bow ties. They were really dedicated to the business.”
Dedication is what separates the friends from most students with a good idea, said Townsend.
“A lot of people have good ideas,” he said. “The difference is that we just kept at it. If I had to give any advice for someone starting a business, it’s perseverance.”
Especially during the learning process that comes with starting a business, Hardaway added.
“The hardest moment was when we realized we needed to deal with our taxes,” he said. The friends were warned by officials with the Internal Revenue Service that they’d never filed tax forms for the company.
“That was a little scary,” Wilson said about facing possible interest and penalties that could’ve turned their profit into a deficit. “But we were able to avoid that and work things out. We’ve sold hundreds (of bow ties) and made thousands (of dollars) now.”
Calfee says he’s “very confident” the business will continue throughout their lives.
“It will be there,” he said. “It’s not going away just because we’re all going off to college. I think it’s just going to open up opportunities for all of us.”