A few weeks ago I made a phone call to Judy Hill at High Cotton Ties simply because I had a strong feeling she had a compelling witness to offer about entrepreneurship, vocation, and creativity. Picking up the phone was a wise decision. She agreed to an interview for readers of the PowerBlog. I had ordered a few bow ties from High Cotton Ties and was extremely impressed with the unique design and high quality. I had no idea of any of Judy’s values, or her beliefs about vocation and entrepreneurship. I didn’t know her at all. At the same time, I was not surprised to find that so much of her thinking aligned with Acton’s ideas and principles. Simply put, Judy is easily among the most gracious, kindest, and spirit-filled ladies I have ever conversed with. She has a radiant personality and a great story to tell about turning a passion into a business success. Below is the interview:
How did the idea for High Cotton develop and what are a few things that make this product so unique?
High Cotton Ties was born out of prayer and the financial needs of our family. Our family had just moved to Charlotte in 2007 after 22 years in the D.C. area. Upon moving, the recession hit our family hard and we found ourselves searching creatively for ways to provide for our family of five, two sons in college and one son in high school. I took a year off from teaching a young women’s Bible Study to devote myself to thinking creatively of ideas for work. Eight months later, it was Christmas time and, having sewn most of my life, I decided to make a pattern and sew a few colorful bow ties for my son Cameron, who is a medical student at the University of Virginia.
Not able to find any silk to my liking, I chose four colorful cottons with which to make the ties. Cameron thought this was a great idea because he would be able to wash the ties so they would be clean to wear when seeing patients in the hospital. I had no idea until then that a study had been done which showed the presence of germs such as H1N1 on the silk neck ties of doctors nor did I know that wearing silk ties was already being discouraged in the hospital.
My middle son, James, took the same bow tie to his fraternity at Carolina (UNC Chapel Hill) and it received an even more enthusiastic response. The college students immediately took to the idea of a comfortable, cotton bow tie. It was preppy, smart, and had its roots in the South. It began to take off on the college campus and that is where the High Cotton Ties culture eventually developed.
Our product is unique in that it is made of high quality, washable cotton and is the first line of bow ties and cummerbunds made exclusively of cotton. Our line is made in the South by Southerners to precise standards and specifications. Our designs are “Southern Mainstays”: traditional patterns and fabrics such as tattersalls, ginghams, madras and seersucker as opposed to novelties and tiny prints. Our bow ties and cummerbunds are hand cut and hand sewn here in North Carolina.
How does your faith or your own concept of a “calling” play a role in your business?
I believe that God has given me a gift in High Cotton Ties, to be able to create the bow ties, to work hand in hand with my sons and to put my mind and abilities toward the work He has given me. Because I see my vocation as a gift and calling from God, it definitely brings more satisfaction to my work. It helps me to see that I am not doing this alone, or even just with my boys, but I am in the process of creating something with the help of the very God of creation and that brings joy, excitement and pleasure in my work.
What do you think are valuable character traits and virtues needed for entrepreneurship?
Creativity, vision, perseverance, integrity, honesty, and willingness to take risks. Focusing on the needs of others is an essential trait of entrepreneurship and that is a crucial aspect for building relationships.
Do you feel like any of these qualities have helped to make High Cotton Ties a success?
High Cotton Ties is still a young company and so if we are considered a success, it would be because we had a vision from the start that was unwavering and clear. We decided early on that we wanted to be the best cotton bow tie on the market, to make a genuine product through a genuine process and we have done everything we can to stay true to that mission with integrity and honesty.
How has it influenced the actual product?
We have worked hard to perfect and improve our bow ties and cummerbunds. In fact, just last week, after a very successful first year and significant praise for our product line, we decided to redesign our bow tie pattern to make it truer to size at the urging of two friends, one a trusted mentor in the apparel industry, and the other, a store owner whom we greatly respect. The product was slightly off in actual neck size and so we made the necessary changes to the pattern, losing valuable time, money and inventory, but the end result was to have as fine a product as is on the market today. We always say we want to be able to sleep at night knowing that we have made a good product and the recent changes to our ties have helped us get that good night’s sleep.
You have said you want to help bring a revival to the North Carolina textile industry and your business is very organic. What does that mean?
Growing up in North Carolina around textiles, I have seen and felt the devastation that industry experienced in recent years. When we outgrew the individual seamstresses we were using, we began to look in North Carolina for a manufacturer, determined to keep true to our mission.
After a state-wide search, we found a textile manufacturing company in a small North Carolina town (population 1200). The owner had returned to North Carolina to open the factory after working with larger international textile firms and experiencing first hand the difficult conditions in the factories overseas. It was a perfect match for our mission. So, now our ties are produced on the still vibrant main street of a “three stoplight” North Carolina town using North Carolina seamstresses.
Our distribution/fulfillment center is also located in another small North Carolina town, Cherryville.
In June, we are releasing our first t-shirt that, again, has the common theme of High Cotton Ties: Made in North Carolina. The cotton for our t-shirts is grown on local farms and picked, ginned, spun, woven, dyed and sewn, all within the borders of North Carolina. In committing ourselves to a local product, we are encouraging jobs in the industry, hopefully for years to come.
Our business is organic in that we have used our own resources to build the company because of a long term commitment to growing High Cotton Ties.
What are you excited about for what the future holds for High Cotton Ties? What would you ultimately like to see develop out of this idea?
The future of High Cotton Ties is all about growing our product line, creatively using 100 percent cotton fabrics to make high quality products for our customers. We are looking at a variety of apparel and accessories to add to our line in the near future and, most importantly, of finding ways to manufacture cotton fabric once again in North Carolina.
We would ultimately like to see our product line continue to grow and be produced in North Carolina, bringing jobs to the textile industry of our great state. And, we would like to earn the respect of our customers, for unparalleled customer service and quality products.