AUBURN, MAINE — When Laura Decato started making bow ties to sell, she naturally expected they’d mostly be worn by young boys, or, at least, humans.
Two years later, about half of her growing customer base has four paws and fur, not two hands and two feet!
“Almost every other order is for pet (bow ties) . . . most of my followers and repeat customers are the pet ones,” Decato said. “I actually have one picture of guy who put one on his chicken.”
Decato, a 34-year-old Auburn mother of four, began selling girls’ handsewn clothes as SunFlowerFreckles back in 2009. When customers started clamoring for boys’ clothes, she added vests and clip-on bow ties to her sewing duties.
Much to Decato’s surprise, the bow ties’ popularity took off like lightning. It turned out that customers could find plain bow ties without a problem, but no one else had met their need for bows printed with specific items on them such as tiny boat anchors, hearts, skulls, planets or chocolate chip cookies.
“That’s something different,” she said. “From afar, it just looks like it’s just a brown bow tie, but when you look closer, it’s, ‘Oh, it’s different!'” Decato said. “How many people have cookie (ties)?”
However, humans weren’t the only creatures wearing her pieces. She soon heard from customers who were putting the bow ties onto their pets’ collars.
A lifelong pet owner herself, Decato thought the backs of the clips might irritate the animals by rubbing against their fur and skin, so she re-created them with a separate line of bows backed not with clips, but with hair elastics. Because the elastics were designed to not tangle hair, the elastics would no longer snarl pets’ fur — and the bow ties could slide on and off pet collars.
Two years ago, Decato dropped her other products to focus exclusively on handmade bows for guys, girls and also animals. Soon, half her bow ties sold were sold for pets.
“I was at a (made-in-America products) show in Boston . . . It was outside, so there were a lot of people walking their dogs through,” Decato said. “It was fun because they would actually, like, hold the bows up next to their dog to see what would look good. I had one lady, she was having her dog sniff a couple of different ones. (She said,) ‘Oh, he prefers the blue.'”
Dogs aren’t the only ones who want to look dapper and distinguished in them. Last year, KitNipBoxes arrived the feline population. The monthly subscription service for cat lovers wanted to include Decato’s bow ties inside one of its boxes. Was she able to make 1,000 of them? No, wait a moment, 6,000 — or maybe 7,500???? And do them all in three months?
Decato was used to hand-making a mere 10 bow ties a week, scrounging time between family and her 30-hour-a-week job as an administrative assistant for Goodwill. But the KitNipBoxes opportunity was just too good to pass up. With help from her husband, kids, mother and a couple of local seamstresses she found through Craigslist, Decato soon pumped out 7,500 cat bow ties — Western themed — just in time for the September subscription box.
The bow ties proved so popular that the company has asked if she’d do it a second time. Decato said yes.
Bows come in three sizes and ranging from $6 to $9. Humans seem to prefer animal-print bows for themselves and nautical themes, flowers and food prints for their furbabies. (The random chicken getting a green-checkered bow.)
Some customers order matching pet-and-human bows, used particularly for weddings that have a dog in the party. Others tell Decato that their pets wear bow ties to their birthday parties, to celebrate holidays or just as an everyday accessory. One woman buys a few every couple of weeks for her cat.
Because the bows slip onto collars, pets don’t seem to object to wearing them. Customers routinely send Decato photos — a pleased dog in a Patriots bow tie, a cat looking chic in a red bow, an adoptable pup posing in a cupcake bow tie at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston.
“I love seeing the pictures,” she said. “They love showing them off and, I mean, they’re adorable.”
Last summer, Decato quit her job as an administrative assistant to focus whole-heartedly on SunflowerFreckles full time. She now creates 50 bows a day and sells them through 18 stores in seven states, as well as online through the Amazon site, her website and Etsy shop.
Decato’s own two cats, Morris and Sheba, wear their own bows around the house often. Although Sheba only recently joined the family, Morris has been sporting bow ties for quite a while.
“His favorite was the French fries (print),” Decato said. “He had the French fries on for a couple of days . . . but I petted him a little too much and he shed all over it.”
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Photo credit: ANDREE KEHN/SUN JOURNAL