Travis Ray runs The Dapper Bowtique.
Executive: Travis Ray, associate managing director of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota
Side hustle: The Dapper Bowtique LLC. Ray handcrafts and sells bow ties, pocket squares and other accessories, selling products on his website, at craft shows and at businesses in Sarasota and Tampa. One dream big goal: to be in major retail store someday.
Dream weaver: Ray traces the beginnings of his side hustle to a dream. The image of a woman in African attire holding fabric appeared to him and dropped a bow tie in his lap. He paid attention to the dream and started making bow ties in 2017. At first, he only made them for himself and friends as gifts, but he realized demand was bigger. When people saw him wearing a bow tie, they would ask him where he got it. They also started telling him, “‘You need to turn this into a business.’”
Sew and sew: Ray learned to sew in home economics class in seventh grade. When he studied theater in college, his sewing skills got another boost. Once he started making bow ties, his mother-in-law, who used to own an alterations shop, gave him tips.
Customer base: Ray, 34, initially sold his products on Etsy. Now he sells on his own website, which eliminates Etsy’s fees. But he reaped helpful demographic information from his time on Etsy — many customers were based in Los Angeles and Houston. Now he has his eye on those cities for attending vendor shows in the future.
‘I love it because it’s just fun.’ — Travis Ray, The Dapper Bowtique
Sunny studio: The Dapper Bowtique headquarters is in the roughly 200-square-foot sunroom of Ray’s home. He’s dubbed it “The Dapper Studio.” There he sews, works on his website and displays fabric and finished products.
Square deal: “Everyone knows me for my bow ties, but I’ve added pocket squares now,” he says. The move allowed him to make use of leftover fabric — and increase sales. “I do the set, and I’ve gotten more business because of it.” Now the majority of customers want the matching set. Dapper Bowtique bow ties sell for $25. With a matching pocket square, it’s $35. Custom orders for a bow tie and pocket square are $45. The amount of bow ties he sells each month varies, he says. Through mid-February, he had sold 25.
Leather and lace: The bow ties Ray makes use fabrics that range from cotton and silk to canvas and linen. “I love being able to work with different types of fabrics,” he says. “I’m challenging myself. My favorite TV show is "Project Runway." I want to use unconventional items — maybe leather and lace that you might not see with pocket squares and bow ties and utilizing embellishments.”
Tie the knot: Customers find The Dapper Bowtique through Facebook, Instagram and Ray’s website. He’s often called upon to make custom bow ties and pocket squares for individuals and groups. One example: Ray is now working on 20 bow ties and pocket squares for his third wedding client this year. There are benefits to working on projects for weddings and church choirs: The orders have larger quantities, and they raise awareness for his brand.
Pay it forward: Ray teaches drama to fifth grade boys on Friday mornings at Visible Men Academy in Bradenton. He’s planning a workshop there to teach students how to sew and tie bow ties. For each bow tie he sells, he gives $1 to Visible Men Academy.
Targeted ties: This year, Ray’s goal is to sell at one vendor show each month. He’s learned it’s important to make his vendor booth relate to the event where he’s selling. “It’s always good to have a nice theme,” he says. He’s also learned he should bring several product options to shows but be more targeted on his website. Ray uses feedback from vendor shows and coworkers as his focus groups. If several people comment on the same tie, he’ll put it on his website.
Treasure hunt: It’s hard to for Ray to pick just one aspect of his Dapper Bowtique business he likes best. “No. 1 is me seeing someone appreciate and love what I’ve created for them,” he says. He also enjoys sewing and picking out the fabric he’s going to use, a process he calls a treasure hunt.
Power hour: Ray does something for his business every day, whether it’s updating his website, making a business connection or creating a bow tie. “I give myself, at the barebones, an hour,” he says. “If I can take more time to work on it, I take it. If I can only do that hour, I’m OK. That’s setting a good solid foundation for myself. There’s a lot I can do in hour. I call it a Power Hour.” When Ray’s working on a bigger project, like a wedding, he works several hours on weekends too. “It has been going very well,” he says. “I’m so happy with the success I’m getting and the buy-in from my community. I love it because it’s just fun.”