News

Alumni Connections: All Tied-Up

Traditionally, neckties that could be described as ‘out-right fun’ were only seen dangling from the necks of eccentric college professors and Joe Six-Pack. It used to be that well-dressed contemporary men would not be caught dead in a whimsical tie. That is of course, until Lee Allison, a former investment banker and ad-man, made them cool.

Armed with only a head full of ideas, Allison founded The Lee Allison Company (a necktie design company) in the spring of 1995. The company was started in a first-floor apartment in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. Quickly outgrowing the apartment, the business was moved in the fall of 1995 to a 5,000 square foot loft in the Bucktown area of Chicago, where it remains today.

Allison’s distinctive ties are a mixture of the commonplace, the traditional and the totally contemporary details of human life with a twist. His rise as a talented neckwear designer has been dramatic. He has been recognized for his innovation by In Style magazine and the Beverly Hills Courier. Allison’s ties have graced the necks of a long list of film, television and news celebrities including – Kevin Spacey, Conan O’Brien and Pierce Brosnan. His neckwear has been seen on Wings, ER, Ally McBeal and Homicide. I chatted recently with Allison about his passion for design and the necktie business.

Harbus: Why a necktie company?

Lee Allison: For a variety of reasons. One, I have always loved clothing.
Two, the capital required to start a tie business is not that high. Three, it is an easy to understand product. Four, it was the mid-nineties when I started the company and neckties were still very much a part of the corporate wardrobe.

Harbus: How difficult was it to get started?

LA: Starting out, I tried to be a wholesale designer. Very quickly, however, I learned that it was really hard to catch the eye of [wholesale] buyers. Fortunately, I discovered early that the end consumer loved my ties when they had a chance to see them. Soon I found myself in situations where I would be showing ties to friends at a restaurant and end up selling ties out of my brief case to people at neighboring tables. After awhile, I started asking myself: why am I trying to go through wholesaler to get to the end consumer when I can do it myself? So I decided to create leeallison.com and a catalogue to sell directly to consumers. Today, we have a very small business force that sales directly to the end consumer and to wholesales who resale through better retailers.

Harbus: Any danger of channel conflict?

LA: Selling to both consumers and wholesalers could lead to channel conflict, but it has not really been a problem. When we sell directly to the consumer we charge prices that are at the high end of our price range and we are very respectful of our retail partners.

Harbus: Are your designs original?

LA: I initially thought that to be a designer I needed to design the fabric. I though that original designs were hugely important. For instance, I use to produce my own striped ties. I was working with this 300 year old silk mill that already had every conceivable stripe you could image, yet I was spending lots of time trying to create my own designs so that I could say that they were my own. I did not realize that most designers just looked at what had already been designed and just figured out what to buy and simply put their names on it. I guess I was just letting my ego get in the way, when in actuality it really does not matter all that much to the consumer that your designs are original.

Harbus: Are all of your designs whimsical?

LA: When I first started, all of my designs were conversational. By that I mean they had themes on them, like bowling pins, pink flamingos, hearts, spades, and diamonds. Overtime, the line has evolved and we are now split 50/50 between conversational ties and traditional ties (stripes, polka dots and geometric shapes). [After] we added more fabric designs, our next evolution was into things like bow ties, cummerbunds, suspenders, and now even pillow cases for the home market.

Harbus: Necktie widths are always yo-yoing; are you in the slim or wide
camp?

LA: Our ties are neither slim nor wide. We try to take more of a classic approach to ties like Hermes and Ferragamo. One reason for that is that it is a pain from an inventory perspective to stock different widths. If you make your ties too trendy and then you don’t sell out of them, you are stuck with a bunch of out dated ties. Two, I think one of the neat things about being a man as compared to being a woman is that men are able to buy really good quality clothing and can essentially always wear it. The classic look is always in, so we settled on a width that’s classic and proportional to the average man.

Harbus: Has the business casual movement affected sales?

LA: It hasn’t hurt my business so much because I’m a small boutique operation. But certainly necktie sales are down from peak years. The interesting thing, however, is that the business casual push has not hurt [tie sales] as much as you might think. [Industry wide] necktie sales are down 20-30 percent from peak years. However, when you consider that guys used to wear ties on average four to five days a week and now on average only wear ties one day a week, you would expect tie sales to be down as much as 80 percent. I think some men just have an addiction to neckties, similar to how some women have an addiction to handbags and shoes.

Harbus: Why do American men have an aversion to neckties?

LA: My lighthearted answer is that their shirt collars are too small. Usually when I hear a guy complain that he doesn’t like to wear a tie, I notice that his shirt collar is too tight. More seriously, there is this notion among men that when they wear a necktie they are doing it at the behest of someone or something. Nowadays, it is either a boss or a situation like a funeral or a wedding that forces men to wear ties. There is an element of control involved and men tend to want to rebel against that control. It’s unfortunate because I believe that men look great in ties.

November 2, 2004
Want to Sponsor The Harbus?

You can sponsor the Harbus website to reach the Harvard Community. Learn more.

RECENT COMMENTS
FlICKR GALLERY
THEMEVAN

We are addicted to WordPress development and provide Easy to using & Shine Looking themes selling on ThemeForest.

Tel : (000) 456-7890
Email : mail@CompanyName.com
Address : NO 86 XX ROAD, XCITY, XCOUNTRY.