Tiffany Rogers is founder and creative director of Silver Spring-based knot by TIFFA. Photo credit: Rebecca Hussey of Ampersander Studios
When Tiffany Rogers looks at a piece of clothing or accessory, she sees much more than fabric and thread. She thinks about the fiber farmer, the factory worker and the environment surrounding them. Rogers is a fashion designer-turned-entrepreneur with a conscience, and it’s shaping the way she builds her Maryland business.
Rogers—founder and creative director of Silver Spring-based knot by TIFFA—didn’t originally intend to become a men’s bow tie maker. After graduating from the University of Delaware in apparel design, she found success as an intern, design assistant and assistant designer at Tracy Reese in New York. She was thrilled when First Lady Michelle Obama wore one of the prints she designed.
But Rogers found herself increasingly concerned about the moral issues facing apparel production. She returned to the University of Delaware to begin graduate work in fashion studies, social responsibility and sustainability. She also began working with associations in Washington, D.C. that consult major clothing companies on labor policies and regulations.
Around Christmas of 2010, in the midst of a major career change, she searched for a gift for a friend.
“I was looking for a bow tie for my friend Cory Thompson, but they didn’t seem special enough to be worth buying, so I decided to just make one,” Rogers said. “It was then I realized I had the potential to take bow ties to market.”
She and Thompson, who became the director of finance and sales, developed marketing and branding strategies that involved patterning the bow ties off musical styles. The knot by TIFFA e-commerce website launched in March 2011. Rogers began personally sewing each order out of her Silver Spring apartment.
“The bow ties are a fresh and contemporary twist to the traditional bow tie and they’re each inspired by a song. It really sets the tone for the collections. So as I’m going through all of the prints and patterns, I’m thinking about the music. Loud upbeat songs I pair with bright colors, so it really shines through,” Rogers said.
This June, knot by TIFFA launched its Summer Medley Carnivale collection, inspired by up-and-coming bands performing at the summer’s bacchanalian outdoor music festivals. They included Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Haim, Alabama Shakes and the Avett Brothers.
On the website, colorful write-ups and excerpts of lyrics accompany each style. The “can’t hold us” bow tie is based on a Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song of the same name. “This technicolor tribal print dusts off the assumption of a conservative bow tie and brings forward a struttin’ generation,” the website reads.
knot by TIFFA creates designer bow ties. Photo credit: Rebecca Hussey of Ampersander Studios
In the fall, Rogers plans to release the Appalachian collection, focused on flannels and plaids, patterned on the music of Bronze Radio Return, Wild Child and other bands that embrace the fiddle, banjo and harmonica.
Twitter has allowed Rogers to connect directly with bands and forge creative partnerships. It has also led to increased sales among fashion-conscious music fans. ”I definitely suggest that other Maryland companies try their best to network and develop a social media presence,” she said.
“I just did a collection and photo shoot with the Wheeler Brothers, an up-and-coming band from Austin. They looked great in our bow ties. Band loyalty factors into the popularity of some of our collections. Fans see band members wearing them and it inspires them. It’s a unique selling process,” she added.
knot by TIFFA’s business model recently attracted the attention of national business news website Business Insider, which recently named it one of “16 Small Businesses On The Verge Of A Breakthrough.” D.C.-area and fashion blogs have also spotlighted the company.
Despite the recent increase in interest and sales, Rogers still sews each bow tie out of her apartment. She has also maintained her day job working with a non-profit to promote improved labor and environmental conditions in the garment production industry.
“I’m starting to grow out of being able to make them all myself,” she said.
Rogers hopes customers will someday find knot by TIFFA bow ties in high-end boutiques and department stores. But finding an apparel manufacturer for mass production can be a cumbersome and sometimes mysterious process. The lack of transparency can make it even easier for workers and the environment to be abused, according to Rogers.
When the time comes for knot by TIFFA to expand, she said she’s committed to meeting the highest standards of production, the same standards that she works everyday to promote among global brands like Nike and Adidas.
“I want to make sure that we have a responsible business model and that all of the factories in our supply chain have features that most importantly protect factory workers’ rights,” she said.
That means Rogers plans to keep production in Maryland, where workers enjoy high labor standards and wages. She said she’s felt welcomed by a like-minded business community as she’s recently reached out to Baltimore-area factories.
“One of the great things about Maryland is that Under Armour has settled in Baltimore and now you have a few apparel factories in Baltimore. Right now, they’re mostly making apparel specifically for Under Armour, but they can branch out and make different apparel types,” she said.
“In general, it’s been difficult for small fashion designers to fill a collection or a brand outside of New York or some other fashion capital. But that’s in the past now. You have so many more platforms to find fabric and trim suppliers and factories to make your product closer to home,” Rogers said.
Photo credit: Rebecca Hussey of Ampersander Studios
Photo credit: Rebecca Hussey of Ampersander Studios