Last fall, FirstBank called out to businesses in Colorado and Arizona in hopes of identifying companies that embodied ‘banking for good’ in their own unique ways. The third iteration of FirstBank’s business contest, the $20K Good Business Giveaway, illuminated a bevy of worthy businesses that sought to do more than hit financial goals.

Colorado’s grand prize winner was Denver’s Knotty Tie, a small batch apparel manufacturer that specializes in neckties, bow ties, scarves and pocket squares. However, it’s their commitment to creating meaningful employment opportunities for refugees and environmental sustainability that makes Knotty Tie stand out from the rest.

Follow this link to watch Knotty Tie’s $20K Good Business Giveaway submission.

How it All Started

Knotty Tie was founded by Jeremy Priest and his business partner at Priest’s kitchen counter, with $500 and a closet full of old ties waiting to be deconstructed. The idea was simple: create a successful business by capitalizing on a decaying industry, while employing resettling refugees with jobs that allow them to thrive in America.

Priest spent six years in the Navy, four of which were deployed overseas. There he was exposed to the reality that not everyone has access to economic opportunity. Furthermore, there were tens of thousands of refugees coming into America each year, expected to succeed in a foreign country, which was light years away from the culture they knew. With a problem in need of fixing, Priest used his background in development economics to create a company that could not only be successful, but use the skills of refugees to create a dignified life for them.

“We found that sewing skills were in abundance among resettled refugees. So we were challenged to create a for-profit business model that actually relied on those skills to have a competitive advantage,” said Jeremy Priest, Knotty Tie President and CEO. “We had to build a viable business so we could pay our workers and provide everything needed to lift them up.”

Making Dreams a Reality

In 2013 Knotty Tie outgrew their space and moved into to a tiny artist collective. Priest and his business partner alternated between part-time jobs and grad school, so they could produce ties around the clock. A year and many hurdles later, they were able to hire their first two employees, one of which was Production Manager Marc Munyakabuga.

After being evicted from his home in the Congo, Marc spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda. He eventually rose to become president of his refugee camp. Through a charity, he was teaching sewing classes to other refugees to create school uniforms for the kids in the camp. After relocating to America, Marc faced an all too familiar problem: working odd-jobs around the clock for little pay just to make ends meet.

“When we found out he had leadership experience and sewing skills, we immediately brought him onboard,” Priest said. “He started doing basic sewing with us. Within a few months he became a line production manager. There are a lot of refugees that chalk themselves up as a loss, and sacrifice themselves for their families. We wanted to make sure he had the opportunities and optimism for his own self, so future generations can learn and witness that they also too have these opportunities.”

Aside from their efforts to employ and elevate the U.S. refugee population, Knotty Tie operates with environmental sustainability at the forefront of all decisions. They achieve this by using recycled fabrics, not carrying inventory to minimize waste, sourcing local materials, and leveraging renewable energy in their operations.

“We want to change the way in which products are made and sold,” Priest said. “It’s really about sustainable sourcing decisions and how can we use waste in the creation of our products. Making consumer products inherently creates waste. We’re very conscious of that, and looking for ways to mitigate it.”

Practicing What They Preach

It’s clear why Knotty Tie was chosen as Colorado’s grand prize winner for the 20K Good Business Giveaway. But it’s how they used the $20,000 cash prize that truly represents FirstBank’s ‘banking for good’ mantra. Half of it was used for first-time holiday bonuses for all employees, demonstrating their approach to take care of their own. The other half was put toward an Impact Fund, which will help spur multiple initiatives, including their transition to wind power, installing processes to weigh and measure waste, scholarship funds for employees, and training programs to teach computer and design skills.

In addition to the cash prize, Knotty Tie was awarded a marketing campaign of their choice, valued at $10,000, and was used for a digital ad campaign to expand their reach in the ecommerce space.

“By the time the campaign finished up, around 10,000 new users were brought to the Knotty Tie site, which is tremendous,” said Kevin Gaertner, digital marketing manager.

The company’s success is rooted in their commitment to do business the right way. From their humble beginnings at Priest’s kitchen counter, to having their products proudly displayed by Presidential candidates, no future is too bright, and no goals too big for Knotty Tie.

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