The time has come for me to close Gay Pride Bow Ties and my heart is good with it. To be honest, one of the many blessings in having achieved creating and running this company is how it has changed my life. I am not the same person I was when I launched it.
How could running a small startup be so life-changing? To start, I was very deliberate about the entire process. From the initial concept all the way to the actual production. It seems inconceivable to me now but in the beginning of this journey I only knew about Gays and Lesbians. I actually knew nothing of the Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual communities. It made me quickly realize that I needed to learn more. I was incredibly fortunate that a close gay friend told me, “You are creating a company, but it needs to be about more than just bow ties. How are you going to change the community?”. That challenge started the the eye-opening education that I undertook and is what drove the mission statement for Gay Pride Bowties:
“It does not matter if you are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Allies or whatever religious affiliation, it is important to know we need to coexist and respect each other. This is why we donate $5.00 for every bow tie sold. We want to unify people and make a difference in the world. That is why we are more than just a bow tie!”
This mission statement was the biggest catalyst in changing my life. I am an ally, but more, by creating my company, Gay Pride Bow Ties, I have been given the opportunity to see just how much the LGBTQ+ community are not protected. It’s been unbelievable to realize that LGBTQ+ individuals are the least protected Americans. LGBTQ+ teenagers experience the highest suicide rate of any teenagers because of the lack acceptance by their families and increased being bullying in school.
There are more LGBTQ+ homeless people than any other group as they are so often kicked out by their parents or they can’t find a job based on their sexuality and not accepted by society. I can’t imagine the pain of being told that loving the person of my choice is a sickness. And the concept that we expect people who are rejected by society to feel secure enough to stand up and inform us of what they need is mind-blowing. I began to realize how impossible it is for them to do this openly. Thus, I began to understand that is our obligation to help create a channel where their voices can be heard. Where they can feel safe to voice their opinions and where they don’t fear being bullied, fired, kicked out of their homes or denied medical services. And yet, with all our efforts, it’s disheartening to realize how much more work there is to complete.
As we have worked to integrate our efforts into the local community since we launched we have been given amazing opportunities. Below are blogs and video that highlight some of our involvement in making a difference in our communities:
You may not know this about me but my beloved dog, Beethoven, and I have volunteered at KU Hospital for the last 3 ½ years. And at every visit he and I both proudly wore our bow ties. We interacted with patients who were depressed and in need of hope. Beethoven has done an amazing job of cheering people up. Our greatest blessing was being able to bring joy to kids battling cancer, or recovering from broken legs or many other illnesses. After an amazing career of bringing joy to patients, my sweet my dog Beethoven retired June 14, 2020. How does that connect to Gay Pride Bow Ties? Because I have been dedicated to serving anyone who need help. Anyone who seeks lifting their spirits. Regardless of their race, sex, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religion, or any other label we put on people. Gay Pride Bow Ties opened my eyes to our commonality and our responsibility to supporting all people.
What about the product?
I made a bold choice, and took a big risk, by deciding to not hire models to represent the product. The decision came from my belief that every person is beautiful, and everyone should be accepted for who they are. Instead, we created a page on our website to showcase our Hall of Fame with a purpose of adding images of our actual customers on that page. The pictures received were incredible, but more, the stories behind the pictures inspired us beyond belief. These snippets of stories impacted my life in the very best ways. Our customer loved that everyone was accepted exactly as they are. Please click on the link and see for yourself. https://www.gaypridebowties.com/hall-of-fame/
My main focus was always to provide amazing service and offer a product that was of extremely high quality. All our bow ties were authentic hand-woven silk from the United Kingdom and hand made in the United States, in the great state of Vermont. We even developed the box to utilize an actual ribbon hand fixed to it. And I added a hand written note for every bow tie shipped. Once the product was shipped I always personally checked in with our customers to make sure they were happy with the product received. Universally, they were very happy and felt the product exceeded their expectations.
Through this process I learned how important it was to protect my company and worked to achieve registered trademarks for both “Gay Pride Bow Ties” and our slogan, “It’s more than just a bow tie”. And I am very proud that we received a Patent for the exquisite black box with the rainbow ribbon that we utilized so no one can replicate how we delivered our product. And we protected our mission statement so no other company could copy that mission statement. When another company tired, we were able to have our lawyers shut them down.
I am proud of the many ways in which we marketed our bow ties. We did have some sales online but the vast majority of sales were from national events like:
- HRC Time to Thrive National conference
- Aids Walk Kansas City
- National Gay Lesbian National Conference
- New York Pride 2019 Pride Fest
- PFLAG National Conference
As is the normal course of the shopping experience, people most often wanted to know the price of the product. I quickly learned that, if I simply shared the final cost of $80, most would think it too expensive. When you can buy a cheap rainbow bow ties for $20, but with a very low quality, you need time to understand the difference in product. My answer was always to speak to the quality of the fabric and craftsmanship and that made all the difference. People understand that “you get what you pay for” and our product rarely disappointed.
Our commitment to customer service resulted in us only processing 3 returns. Two were returned when they reconsidered and felt that the expense was too high for them and one was returned because they struggled to tie it and wanted a pre-tied option. With an intent to always providing the best product and service to our customers, we issued these refunds immediately.
Unfortunately, covid entered the scene and national events were cancelled right and left. As the main source of revenue for my company it became clear that it was time to shutter the business. I miss attending these national events and, more, connecting with amazing humans. But, I am incredibly proud of what we achieved and the donations we were able to make:
- The total donated for Aids Walk Kansas City was $600
- The total donated to the Center for Inclusion for the LGBTQ prom was $600.
- The total donations to the Breast Cancer Resource Center of YWCA Princeton were $400. These donations helped 12 women who lost their hair due to chemotherapy and were able to receive a wig.
- The black bow ties were my top seller, by far. That why I was able to sponsor 16 kids in Mali, Africa to go school for one year through the Ko-Falen Cultural Center.
- We also donated 4,500 bracelets this year that stated “www.gaypridebowties.com and Help Stop Bullying.” We gave the bracelets out for free. The total cost for donating the bracelets was $900. And, in the last 2 years, we have donated 11,000 bracelets for total cost of $2150.
In addition, I am very grateful to have been a part of the Mid America Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. I have always felt accepted and encouraged to continue to make a difference in our community.
There a so many people who are mentors to me and to whom I owe a great thanks for helping me. Please click on this link to see the list. https://www.gaypridebowties.com/thank-you/
I would be remiss were I not to thank my wife Lori Santana who has supported this journey. I know how lucky I am to have my wife in my life. While I get a lot of credit for making a difference, there is no way that would be possible without her undying support.
In closing, I knew that creating a company like Gay Pride Bow Ties would bring some unwanted reactions. That we might never be fully accepted by some parts of our society. It has not always been easy losing friends, having my tires slashed, having our car scratched or suffer through people trying to bully me online. The loss of losing those particular friends was made much easier by the many new friends that I gained. I have learned that not everyone will like your product. That you can never fully please everyone. But I know that Gay Pride Bow Ties was not a mistake and I consider this entire experience a huge success. I feel lucky to have overcome the challenges in launching a small business. I am better person because of the lessons learned and the community I supported. I know that I will NEVER stop being an advocate and ally for the amazing humans who identify as part of the LGBTQIA community. They have made a huge difference in my life and I will forever work to make a difference in our community until all people have equal rights.
Thank you for being a part of this journey.