Debra D. Bass
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) St. Louis entrepreneur Jennifer Hill shares her journey starting and growing “Lonesome Traveler Brand” which produces unique wedding ties and bow ties for men who don’t normally wear them.
Having always liked menswear, starting a niche neckwear business was “a no-brainer for me,” said St. Louis-area resident Jennifer Hill, whose Lonesome Traveler brand consists of handmade unisex neckwear and accessories.
Hill, who is married and has a son, loves wearing her products, which range in price from $24-$62 and are sold at a few retail locations and online.
The brand launched at a time when both men and women were looking for items that felt both retro and modern. Her biggest business is wedding ties and bow ties for men who don’t normally wear ties.
“I think it just strikes a balance that feels formal” but not stuffy because the items tend to look just as good with a navy or cream suit as they do with a hoodie and jeans, Hill said.
She does custom wedding ties but otherwise produces limited-edition items for clients who want something distinctive.
-Sew young: “I learned to sew at 7 or 8. I was hand-stitching garments and then as I got older I think I saved some bat mitzvah money and bought a sewing machine,” said Hill, 35. It was pre-YouTube, so “I had to follow a sewing manual. No one in my family can sew. Mom can’t even sew on a button.” She said it was a “really basic Singer sewing machine” that costs about $120. “It was the biggest purchase I’d ever made in high school,” said Hill, who used that machine for years, took it to college and even used it at the very start of her business. In school she made handbags and a wrap skirt, but by the time she attended fashion classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, she was thinking a little more “business minded.”
-Careers, she’s had a few: Although Hill was obsessed with fashion and spent hours perfecting the construction of a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, she ultimately graduated with a degree in interior and lighting design from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and went on to work as an architectural lighting designer for eight years before she dramatically switched careers and became a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Hollywood.
-OK, Christmas: Hill jokes that she used to “resist the Christmas craze,” preferring to stick with year-round neckwear looks. It didn’t stop people from asking her about a holiday line for special occasions and eventually she came to terms with the fact that holidays happen and resistance is futile. This year, she’s planning a small collection of super-limited-edition holiday tie looks, but “I’m Jewish, so they are not going to be totally Christmasy.” She’s scouted some fabrics in black, gold, red and even a vintage black and white plaid look. “I figured I could do a couple and be a better sport about it.”
-Good thing: Hill said that in any fashion business there’s the dilemma of having a great product that sells and creating new stuff to keep customers engaged. “I’ve got no plans to expand the product line,” Hill said. “I briefly did linen hand-dyed aprons and smock dresses, but nothing ever sold as well as the neckwear.” So once she decided to just make neckwear and accessories, well-intentioned people told her that she should outsource the work and mass produce to increase profits. “But I actually really love the process of sewing and stitching everything myself. I know people mean well when they are trying to get me to grow the business, but I’m like leave me alone.” She said she outsources things that she doesn’t love to do, such as the marketing, advertising and photography, but not the sewing.
-Handmade: “It’s really nice to make a tangible product,” Hill said. “I listen to audiobooks while I sew. I used to really like sci-fi, but then I found some really good pop dramas. When you have a baby, it’s nice to escape sometimes and not think about anything real. Sewing is me time.”