How did it all begin for Reef Knots?
I worked in the stock market for 13 years and was made redundant in November 2012. It was two days before my wife had twins and I found myself with three children, a mortgage, and a bit of a problem. I had talked about starting a business for years and didn’t really have an excuse not to try. I’m not sure how thrilled my wife was about the prospect of starting a business based around the world’s most unpopular item of clothing, but I saw an opportunity.
What was the opportunity?
Ties are pretty unpopular. The branding of formalwear in general struck me as very corporate and dull. Most ties said nothing more than ‘I bought this with my shirt’. The opportunity was to make a tie that represented the wearer’s personality. A great tie is a reminder that there’s a personality behind the suit. I also wanted to create something that reminded you of life far away from the office. Our designs are based around the ocean and the summer. I thought of them a bit like swim shorts you would wear to work.
In our first collection the designs were of fish, flip-flops, sailing boats and sharks. They seem so simple now, but the reaction to them was incredible. They were handmade from screen-printed silk and we continue to make ties that way to this day.
Who do you consider as your competitors?
We’re a much wider lifestyle brand now, selling everything from polos to socks to knitwear, so we compete with any menswear brand operating in the aspirational but affordable space. For ties, I think we’re an easy and accessible upgrade for customers used to shopping at TM Lewin or Charles Tyrwhitt; and we offer better value to those who shop at Hermès or Salvatore Ferragamo.
Where are your ties made?
Our ties are screen-printed and handmade in Como, Italy. It’s not a bad place for a business trip and the process is incredible. The quality is also world class.
In your opinion, what colourways always work?
We always produce ties across the spectrum but I would say pastels are very Reef Knots and they’re a safe bet when it comes to choosing a colour. Our customer likes a pink tie, but we are also known for producing aqua ties – given the ocean influence. At Christmas, the buying trends shift to darker colours, with dark blue being the most popular. People don’t want to take a risk when buying a present, so it’s navy all the way.
And which ones don’t work?
I once tried a grey tie, which I thought was really striking. But let’s just say we had plenty of stock for the sale. My wife won’t let me produce a purple tie because she hates the colour, so I have no idea if that would work. I’ve got her as far as lilac so far.
What are your most popular prints?
Flamingos and turtles have an enduring appeal. We’ve also got a great polar bear tie that people seem to love. We’ve started doing limited editions, which are something we are going to do more; people love to have something rare and they sell out very quickly. Our most recent Blue Marine Foundation tie was worn by Sir David Attenborough, which made it very popular indeed. That’s about the highest praise you can get from our perspective.
Where do you stand on fun ties in the city?
First and foremost, our ties have to be suitable for an office or a wedding. As a former City worker myself, I know where that line is. We don’t make wacky ties; we make ties with character. There is a line between fun and smart, and there is no place for a Homer Simpson tie in the workplace.
Talk to us about the different tie knots…
There are actually 85 ways to tie a tie and I’ve taught over 4 million people how to tie them through my YouTube channel. That said, you’ll be fine with knowing just 3: the Four-in-Hand (the one you learn at school), the Half Windsor and the Full Windsor. They become more formal and wider as you move through the three. The Full Windsor is the widest, so suits a cut-away collared shirt. I tend to stick with a half Windsor for most occasions as it’s a happy middle ground. If you want to try something different, you can attempt the Pratt knot or the Oriental knot, both of which are quite simple.
What shirt and tie combinations work?
Lots of people struggle to combine colours and patterns, but there are basic rules you can follow. A shirt paler than your tie is a good start – and stick to white, blue or pink. If the shirt has a stripe, make it a thin Bengal stripe. That should leave most tie options open. The simpler the shirt; the more interesting tie pattern it can support. In terms of colour, I like matching white shirts with pale blue ties; pink shirts with greens; and pale blue shirts with dark pink or coral ties.
Any tie hacks you can share?
Roll your ties up to travel and pop them in your shoes. That should avoid creasing. If they do develop a crease, you can run an iron over them when it’s on its lowest ‘silk’ setting. Lots of people say you can’t, but you can. Make sure you turn the steam off though; and don’t press too hard around the edges. The edges should have a rolled rather than pressed look.
Can a man have too many ties?
I don’t think I’d be able to look my team in the eyes tomorrow if I said yes.
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