Laura J. Kloosterman and LK Weiss – owners of Bowline Co. -craft bow ties for every day and everyone.
In her fourth-floor office over the rooftops of Congress Street, LK Weiss reaches out across a table—an antique door topped with glass and mounted on modern steel legs—to shake hands. It’s a Thursday afternoon, and she looks both cool and classic, dressed in jeans, a short-sleeve button-down shirt, and the borrowed-from-the-boys pièce de résistance: a white cotton bow tie with delicate black polka dots. Her partner in life and in business, Laura J. Kloosterman, is beside her, wearing jeans, a pale blue button-down, and on her hip, her afternoon charge, the two-year-old girl she nannies for, EV.
During business hours, Weiss is the graphic artist and owner behind the Portland Designer, with a client roster that includes L.L.Bean, Sea Bags, and the Belted Cow Company. Kloosterman is a devoted nanny to four young children under the age of seven. When they’re not at their day jobs, the couple is toiling away on the tailored-to-perfection, unisex bow ties sold by their company, Bowline (pronounced not like the knot, but rather bo-line) Co. “Bow ties are a way to dress up but not wear a regular tie, which is seen as sort of corporate and stiff,” says Weiss. “Bow ties are more fun, classic, and rare. They make you stand out.”
Using an antique sewing machine at their East Bayside home, in a small loft that the couple refers to as the bow tie tree house, the pair stiches, cuts, and irons 19 different styles of bow ties. In a nine-step collaborative process, they hand-make the ties in patterns that range from polka dots to plaid. Each is named after a place in Maine, from the light blue cotton Harpswell, with an anchor motif, to the buffalo plaid Jackman. A few are upcycled from unconventional materials such as L.L.Bean flannel pajamas and a blaze orange hunting vest. They also have a neon yellow design inspired by first responders’ jackets—part of a charity collaboration with the nonprofit Never Forget Project, which provides aid to New York City Fire Department fire fighters and families affected by 9/11.
Each finished piece is wrapped in crisp tissue paper, secured with a piece of wax-tipped marine rope tied in a bowline knot (naturally), and placed in a kraft paper box along with Weiss’s original illustration outlining how to properly tie it. In addition to the actual making, the pair does all of the branding— from production to photography. They sell their wares at David Wood Clothiers, local shows such as Picnic Music and Arts Festival and the MECA Holiday Sale, and in their online shop, which they manage and maintain.
The idea for the business came two years ago, after the couple attended a men’s fashion show where bow ties went down the runway. There was one problem with them: “They looked like they were made out of Grandpa’s drapes,” says Weiss. When the pair searched for other styles, everything felt too retro. So they decided to make their own. “We wanted to do something a little bit different,” says Kloosterman. “Make our bow ties modern and super-styled, and we also wanted to target more women.” Bowline ties are thinner, sharper, and more tailored than some of the floppier, more traditional styles, so they work on both male and female frames. (And even on well-dressed dogs, who often sport the look when their owners are headed down the aisle.) “A bow tie can be for every day and for any outfit,” adds Weiss, who suggests pairing one with a pair of shorts for a guy or a cardigan for a girl.
Like one of their bowties, knotted together in its center, their relationship is very much entwined. Weiss’s office shows just how enmeshed it is: near a ’70s-era maroon and magenta shag rug is a child-size table and pair of chairs for art lessons that Weiss gives to the seven-year-old Kloosterman nannies for; tacked up on the wall behind a counter-height drafting desk are numerous original sketches by Weiss, which hang next to finger paintings by one of the kids. The pair is so in sync that on a recent fabric-buying trip to New York’s Garment District, they split up at a textile warehouse to cover more ground. When they met up an hour later, they had each selected the same three fabrics.
When they have a rare day off, the couple enjoys boating, paddle boarding, and road biking (part of Weiss’s recent training for her first Tri for a Cure, in which she was the eleventh top fundraiser out of 1,200 participants). But because Kloosterman’s job means she’s very physically active—she wore a Fitbit to work one day and clocked five miles pacing in circles trying to get kids to fall asleep—she tends to decompress at home, while Weiss—who sits at a desk all day—tends to do errands or run the Back Cove after work.
In the office, Weiss waters one of the happy succulents on her desk, while Kloosterman attends to EV, who has finished a coloring and a muffin. “When we’re at a show or somewhere out selling, people come up to us and say, ‘Oh, those are great, but I could never wear one,’” says Kloosterman. “I used to be that person. I tell them, ‘Just wear a bow tie once.’ And then you’re hooked.”
Yes, a bow tie might be a bit of a fashion risk, but it’s a stylish statement that makes people smile. Man, woman, or dog: if the bow tie fits, wear it.