We were delighted to welcome blogger Dandy Dad to write a guest post on the intriguing MaBowTies. We invite you to find out more…
I first started following MaBowTies on Instagram because they would post up pictures of the boldest, most colourful bow ties I’d ever seen – often emblazoned with quirky Japanese characters and patterns. Being the opportunistic blogger that I am, I sent them a cheeky message saying I was a big fan of their bow ties and that if they’d send me one, I’d happily write a review for Dandy Dad; this is when I discovered the whole story behind the brand.
Even at first glance, the business model is intriguing. Mabo (Masashi Yamamura) lives in the States but sells one-of-a-kind bow ties that his mother Chieko makes by hand back in Japan; often using fabric cut from the family’s own ceremonial kimonos. But when you discover that all the business proceeds go back to helping Chieko’s rehabilitation following a stroke, the set-up takes on much more significance.
But let’s start with a big caveat: bow ties are for serious sartorialists only! Look at pictures from any red carpet event and you’ll notice just how many men get it wrong. In my opinion, it takes a certain amount of experience (and the right ensemble) to wear one with the requisite amount of aplomb. Let’s face it, most guys will find it quite hard to rock a bow tie and avoid looking like they’re off to a fancy dress party as Pee-wee Herman or Eugene from Grease. A gentleman must choose his weapons carefully; which basically means avoid pre-tied bow ties where possible* and make sure the rest of your outfit can support one (ideally a suit or smart separates, but definitely no jeans or trainers, you slob).
Anyway, I digress; let’s take a look at the origins of MaBowTies. Chieko Yamamura ran a successful firm of architects with her husband until she suffered a devastating stoke, which left her unable to work. The illness coincided with the recession in Japan, and the family business went under. Chieko subsequently slipped into depression for almost a decade before her son’s foppishness ended up saving her. Noticing that her son loved wearing colourful bow ties, Chieko, for want of something to do, decided to try her hand at making one for him. This decision turned out to be lifesaving, both physically and emotionally.
The intricate work involved in making the ties has greatly improved the agility in Chieko’s left hand, which was the one affected by the stroke. Her most recent foray is into crocheted ties, and she knits all the fabric herself. When Chieko first started making ties over a year ago, she did not have the hand-skills to make such tight and detailed knitting. Mabo has told me that friends of his who crochet say the stitching work his mother has performed is flawless, and even they don’t possess the skills to make such tight-knit fabric.
The emotional benefits are also clear to see. As Mabo told me, ‘When Mum started making these ties for me, I could see the fog was lifting. She now experiences excitement finding new materials, new applications, and ways to make the ties better; there is a passion and joy in her voice that I have not heard for many years, or possibly ever.’
How the ties are made
After Chieko’s first attempt at making a bow tie, from the fabric of a regular necktie, it struck her that she had a storage closet full of her family’s ceremonial and quotidian kimonos that were no longer in use. She first focused upon the obi (belt), which is usually the most ornate portion of the kimono and made from intricate and beautiful fabrics. This fabric was originally reserved for the imperial court and samurai lords, as it includes gold threads within the weave, which give the distinctive reflective patterns. Because an obi is the smallest portion of the kimono, and the fabric is best used when cut on the bias, she might be able to yield only two, possibly three, sections of the larger portion of the bow ties.
The smaller scraps that are left over from the obi may then be used for the middle portion of the pre-tied bowties to add vibrant additions to more simple fabric ties. This is why some of the family kimono ties are so expensive (US$175-500); in many cases Chieko can only make two complete ties from this kind of fabric. In these cases, you are buying a piece of the family’s history in a one-of-a-kind piece of wearable art.
Chieko will first deconstruct a kimono and decide which pieces of the fabric she wishes to use for a particular tie. She has created a pattern she uses to cut each piece precisely with scissors. She has to use the scissors in her right (healthy) hand, while her left hand (the one affected by the stroke) holds down the fabric and pattern while she cuts. It’s quite remarkable that every single stitch on the seams, as well as some of the embroidered patterns, is done by needle and thread – by Chieko’s own hand. She holds and guides the fabric with the left hand and she uses her right hand to hold the needle and thread as she stitches.
Passing on skills to the next generation
Naturally, MaBowTies packaging is also subject to Chieko’s eye for detail. Even the Japanese paper-wrapped cards that hold the ties – including the envelope, which is made from Japanese newspaper – are cut, folded and glued by hand. In the Japanese tradition, Chieko decided to make these so that each bow tie is presented in a way that honours the tie as well as the person receiving one.
Mabo’s sister, Junko, has a form of autism and has remained living at home, unable to fully function in society. However, Chieko has been training her daughter to help make the holding cards and envelopes, which Junko’s subsequently managed to master. Mabo’s hope is that his sister will be able to learn the skills involved in hand-making bow ties, so she’s able to support herself after her mum passes. He explains, ‘It’s my goal to build this business to the point where my parents and my sister can be fully supported, with no more financial worries for the rest of their lives.’
When I received two beautiful ties from Japan (one self-tie and one pre-tied), there was a hand written note attached from Chieko that melted by cold, cold heart. Here’s what it said:
Hello, I am MABO’s mother.
Thank you so much for liking the bow ties that I made. I feel like I get a reward whenever someone says they are nice. These words energize my heart. As I get older, it gets harder to energize my heart by myself, so I’m thankful that I can have such moments through making bow ties.
I made the self-tie bow tie improved – now you can wear it as reversible. Please enjoy wearing it both ways. The other pre-tied fabric is called Kieran. The fabric is usually used for Kimono and traditional Japanese dolls. I heard that you would write an article about MaBowTies – thank you so much. But the happiest thing is that I could connect with people from England, far from where I live here in Japan. I really appreciate you.
*There are exceptions as you’ll see later in this article. Admittedly I did wear a pre-tied dusky pink Tom Ford number at my wedding but I only realized that after I’d purchased it, okay?
Article by Dandy Dad