What do Fred Astaire, Jay-Z, Orville Redenbacher, Karl Lagerfeld, James Bond, Marlene Dietrich, Idris Elba, Winston Churchill and The Cat in the Hat have in common?
A great deal, perhaps. But, the most visible ties that bind them are bowed. These are famous faces that have posed happily atop bow ties – an assertive style statement, given the Neckwear Association of America’s finding that bow ties comprise only 3% of the tie market.
Thought to date back to 17th Century Croatian mercenaries, bow ties have inspired great debates – self-tie or pre-tied? – and patent wars.
It was bowties that inspired designer Cheralyn Chok to start Fly At Risk – “a whimsical collection of handmade jewelry, clothing, and accessories for men, women, and children, inspired by travels, poetry, and all things floral.”
Chok was in Grade 12, caught up in the great whorl of graduation. She had her grad dress, but could not find a turquoise bow tie for her date. “So I made him one. He loved it, people saw it and I started to get custom orders.” As the requests came in – bow ties for brothers at Christmas, bow ties for boyfriends on Valentine’s – Chok realized that she might have a real shot at the design business she had been plotting since she was a child.
“I was really into fashion from when I was three. Our family photos unfortunately reflect that. That little fake pink leather jacket…” Her Grandmother taught Chok to sew when she was four. “She was a seamstress in Singapore. She made her living sewing yellow plastic raincoats for a factory. She would sew them at home; she was really good.”
Chok officially launched Fly At Risk in December, 2013 to coincide with her studies in the Sauder Business School at UBC. “I just wanted to do something that I really love that paired up with what I’m learning at school.” She originally wanted to apply to art school for textile and design, but “my parents – both accountants – said that I need to know something about business if I want to run my own. That made sense to me. They have always been really supportive.”
Now 19 years old, Chok is relishing the growing demand for her pre-tied clip-on bow ties, her full ties and her hairbows for women. “I’m expanding into t-shirts this summer.” She gets to meet her customers face to face at the Eastside Flea Market. “I did my first one in April, 2014 and sold lots of my Prints Charming ties.”
Chok was also invited to participate in the Lululemon Holiday Market. “They invited artisans to their 4th Avenue store to sell their wares. We didn’t have to pay any booth space. It worked out really well.” Once again, her accessories were a hit. People also took notice of her beautifully hand-written cards, some even asking her if she could train them in artful hand-writing. “It’s a big thing now. A lot of hand-writing artists do that.”
After an inspiring ten days in London and Paris, Chok decided she would start approaching Vancouver boutiques. She was thrilled when Hunter and Hare owners Jo and Micki took her on right away. “I bring them a new lot every three weeks or so. When Jo got married in New York, her husband wore one of my ties. It was blue.”
It is important to Chok to stay artisanal in her approach. She buys her fabrics at Dress Sew on West Hastings and does all of her sewing in a little room off the family kitchen. “I want to be in control of how things are made, to make things myself for as long as I can.”
Chok is also committed to raising money for social causes. “In Grade 11 – right after the earthquake in Japan – I did a fundraiser at school for the Red Cross and made about $300 for them selling headbands.” More recently, she designed the blu bracelet to help raise funds for the Foundation Foundation.
With a creative career lying well ahead of her, Chok is thinking about the ways in which she might grow her line. Might she move from making head to toe clothes just for herself to designing outfits for sale? Whatever the focus, she will take the time to do it right. “Through Fly At Risk, I really stress how details and the little things are important.” And wherever Chok lands, chances are that some of the people around her will be wearing her bow ties.
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Design photos courtesy of Fly At Risk