Bow ties on sale at the new Knotzland store. Photo courtesy of Nisha Blackwell.

Knotzland, the fashion startup that makes hand-sewn bow ties from recycled fabrics, moved into its first stand-alone space over the weekend. Knotzland Bowties Studio & Showroom opened on Saturday on S. Trenton Ave. in Wilkinsburg, not far from its birthplace in Homewood.

The name Knotzland came to founder Nisha Blackwell in early 2016, while she was admiring the view of Homewood from her grandmother’s backyard. The company, launched in 2014, was originally called “Have Knotz” — a playful description of the startup’s neatly knotted bow ties that also served as a tribute to the neighborhood’s grit and resilience.

“Growing up in Homewood felt like the have-nots, versus the surrounding areas that felt like the haves,” Blackwell tells NEXTpittsburgh.

But as she looked out at the neighborhood through a window at her grandmother’s house, Blackwell realized her company was ready for a name that signified its new phase. The business was rapidly gaining momentum, and Homewood had facilitated its growth. 

“We were no longer have-nots as a company,” Blackwell remembered. “We would go from the have-nots to the land of the knots.”

And that’s how Knotzland was born.

Each bow tie is made from 100% repurposed material. The shop sources its fabrics from many different places including upholstery shops, design centers and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse

Blackwell has even made bow ties from unusual materials like automotive air bag scraps, a collection that was quite successful.

“I think people mostly like the idea of wearing something that’s unconventional,” Blackwell says.

The bow ties are handmade with the help of 15 community seamstresses Blackwell has trained. Machine-made bowties might be faster to make, but “there’s charm to the old-fashioned process,” she says.

Blackwell started the operation out of her living room. Her business quickly outgrew the space, moving to the tech incubator Thrill Mill (now Ascender) and then to the business hub 7800 Susquehanna Street.

The interior at the new Knotzland store includes space for customers to relax. Photo courtesy of Nisha Blackwell.

The new store is the company’s first independent headquarters (“I like to call it Knotzland 4.0,” Blackwell says). It’s a place where customers can sit and relax while shopping, and even be involved in the creative process by helping design their own custom bow ties. 

Blackwell chose Knotzland’s new location in part because of the other businesses on the block, including The Pittsburgh Yarn Company and Meshwork Press. “It’s such a great community of creative businesses to be a part of,” she says.

Along with the new storefront, customers can find Knotzland products at local retailers including Larrimor’s and love, Pittsburgh. The company also has a booming online business, shipping bow ties as far as the U.K. and Australia. 

Most online shoppers find Knotzland on Instagram or through Google’s 2017 video showcasing the company.

Knotzland’s customers have “multiple identities,” says Blackwell, from eco-conscious shoppers drawn to the company’s sustainable practices to trendsetters who walk in toting custom suits. It also has a solid customer base of “more mature” bow tie enthusiasts.

Above all, a Knotzland customer is “a person who likes to express their individual style,” Blackwell tells us. “They want something that’s going to set them apart, be a conversation starter.”

Now that the store has opened, what’s next for Blackwell? “To reach a point where people say, ‘I’m in Pittsburgh, I have to have a Knotzland bow tie.’”

Juliette Rihl

Juliette Rihl is a journalist and Pitt graduate based in Squirrel Hill. She recently completed a Fulbright teaching grant in Taichung, Taiwan.