Female designer attracts men who don’t like ties

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ST. LOUIS — Having always liked menswear, starting a niche neckwear business was “a no-brainer for me,” said St. Louis-area resident Jennifer Hill, whose Lonesome Traveler brand consists of handmade unisex neckwear and accessories.

Hill, who is married and has a son, loves wearing her products, which range in price from $24-$62 and are sold at a few retail locations and online. The brand launched at a time when both men and women were looking for items that felt both retro and modern. Her biggest business is in wedding ties and bow ties for men who don’t normally wear ties.

“I think it just strikes a balance that feels formal” but not stuffy because the items tend to look just as good with a navy or cream suit as they do with a hoodie and jeans, Hill said.

Sew young

“I learned to sew at 7 or 8. I was hand-stitching garments and then as I got older I think I saved some bat mitzvah money and bought a sewing machine,” said Hill, 35. It was pre-YouTube, so “I had to follow a sewing manual.” She said it was a “really basic Singer sewing machine” that costs about $120. “It was the biggest purchase I’d ever made in high school,” said Hill, who used that machine for years, took it to college and even used it at the very start of her business. In school she made handbags and a wrap skirt, but by the time she attended fashion classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, she was thinking a little more “business minded.”

Although Hill was obsessed with fashion and spent hours perfecting the construction of a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, she ultimately graduated with a degree in interior and lighting design from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and went on to work as an architectural lighting designer for eight years before she switched careers and became a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Hollywood.

Good thing

Hill said that in any fashion business there’s the dilemma of having a great product that sells and creating new stuff to keep customers engaged.

“I’ve got no plans to expand the product line,” Hill said. “I briefly did linen hand-dyed aprons and smock dresses, but nothing ever sold as well as the neckwear.”

So once she decided to just make neckwear and accessories, well-intentioned people told her that she should outsource the work and mass produce to increase profits. “But I actually really love the process of sewing and stitching everything myself. I know people mean well when they are trying to get me to grow the business, but I’m like leave me alone.”