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Local entrepreneur is crafting art one bowtie at a time

Travis Ray is making custom bowties inspired by art, and he's doing it with locally sourced material and selling them at a local art gallery.

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  • | 11:00 a.m. February 23, 2022
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Visual Art
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Travis Ray walked into an art gallery and his brain started turning.

Ray, the man behind Dapper Bowtique, was inspired by some of the artwork at Monark Custom Framing and Art Gallery in Bradenton and decided to do something about it. Ray went two doors down to a material store, Bits & Pieces, and then down the block to his home. And after some fits and starts, he had made a bowtie with many of the same highlights as the art he had seen.

Now, Ray's creations are on sale at the very store that inspired them. Ray's line of wearable art bowties and pocket squares are now on sale at Monark Custom Framing, and the shop's proprietors are thrilled to have them on the shelf.

"It's a nice accent," says Mark Gagnon of Monark Custom Framing. "The variety that we have here in jewelry and macrame, aromatherapy art and floral design, it was nice to see someone doing a little bit more of art-designed fabric work. And bowties are cool. It's like the old school belt buckle. People would wear giant belt buckles with art all over it, and that goes out of fashion quick."

Ray, the associate managing director of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, has made bowties his second career.

The engaging crafter was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Manasota Honors for his work with Dapper Bowtique, and he said that Monark Custom Framing is the only store in Manatee County that carries his line of bowties.

The original Ray creation in this line was black-and-white and inspired by an art piece that resembled sheet music, but he's crafted a line of ties with color and interesting patterns. And everything he's made from this line was made with local fabric. Ray has more than 200 fabrics in his personal collection, and when he runs out of material, he heads right back to Bits & Pieces.

Travis Ray poses with Monica and Mark Gagnon outside Monark Custom Framing and Art Gallery in Bradenton. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
Travis Ray poses with Monica and Mark Gagnon outside Monark Custom Framing and Art Gallery in Bradenton. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

"That's usually the thing: If you don't have it, you've got to find it very quickly," says Ray. "And then one of the things I run into is I don't like to buy fabrics online. I need to touch it. As soon as I touch fabric, I automatically know how difficult it's going to be to work with. Being able to find it, touch it, feel it, and then create. Once I know, it's easy sailing after that."

Ray said that he makes the bowties whenever he has free time. Generally, that means very early in the morning or late at night. On the weekend, he either spends time making ties or he's prepping material so he can work at a moment's notice.

"This morning, within two hours, I've done 17 bowties," Ray said on Friday. "I think I've done 25 in one day, just me sitting. Now I have three different sewing machines, and one that's actually a heavy-duty sewing machine. It doesn't take me as long now. It's easier with a faster motor. I've already cut and prepped the material, and now I'm moving constantly."

Ray's creations have been available since the Art Walk in Bradenton earlier this month, and the reaction from the public has been immediate. Marc Gagnon said they sold one of Ray's ties the very first day they were on display.

"We sold one that day to a gentleman buying it for his grandson," says Gagnon. "He said: 'Oh, he loves bowties. This is great.' And he appreciated the packaging, the bag that comes with it and the pocket square. And it's been interesting to hear women say, 'Oh, is your guy a bowtie guy?' It starts a cool conversation because not everyone is a bowtie guy. But there are a lot of people who are."

Every one of the bowties in the collection is unique. Ray does attempt to make some of the patterns identical, but he said that a quirk of creating them means that basically every one has its own stamp of individuality.

"They all have a difference. Even if I'm working with the same pattern," says Ray. "As soon as I cut it, I've created a whole new bowtie. If I'm doing solids, I can be consistent. But nine times out of 10 when I'm designing, I find that people want colors, and they want patterns or something that's different, which I love because it's interesting."

Monica Gagnon said she first got wind of Ray through Realize Bradenton, and she was thrilled to reach out to him once she found out he was going to be selling bowties in the area. Monark, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, will be hosting a special Customer Appreciation Day on March 5 from noon to 6 p.m.

Ray, who also sells ties through his website, said he was excited to keep designing and selling ties via Monark, and one of his simple pleasures is walking into the material store and showing them what he's done.

"The young lady next door, she loves it because I usually take photos of all the work," he says. "Last Saturday, I showed her what I had done with the fabric I had just purchased from her. She was like, 'Oh, that's mine!' I think she's excited. She has the news article, and when people come in when I'm there, she brings it out from back, and she shows it to people."


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