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Fit to be Tied: Bethany Shorb’s Designer Drive

Bethany Shorb photo by Achille Bianchi, © Achille Bianchi

Bethany Shorb may be the founder, CEO, and principal designer at Cyberoptix TieLab, the fashion-forward brand that’s sold ties to all 7 continents (yes, even Antartica!), but despite her role as the woman in charge, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Bethany still creates every single tie herself.

“To date, I’ve hand-screenprinted over 100,000 neckties, all by hand, with no automation, machines or even a press! I have to admit having quite a buff right arm to show for it,” she told us.

That’s an awful lot of ties since she launched her company in 2006, so how does she do it? She takes inspiration from everything around her, draws on her background in fine art, and has a little help from some, as she says, “studio bees,” who assist with shipping, customer service, website update, and keeping an ample supply of take out coming into the studio during busy times.

Bike Chain Tie photo by Luke Copping, © Luke Copping

This busy studio, a buzzing center producing artistic fashions admired all over the world, isn’t located in New York, Paris, or Milan. After receiving a BFA in sculpture, with a concurrent concentration in photography from Boston University (in the city where she was born) Bethany made the Motor City, Detroit, her home.

“I’ve been based in Detroit for thirteen years now,” she said. “I chose to move here to go to graduate school [receiving a MFA in sculpture, also with a concurrent concentration in photography, from Cranbrook Academy of Art ] and also chose to stay immediately after finishing. I realized there was vast opportunity here that diverged from the traditional New York gallery or art educator path. With the low overhead that basing a studio practice in Detroit affords, it also in turn enables one to take financial and aesthetic risks that one would not be able to take were money tight, student loans looming, distractions abound and space cramped. With access to a large amount of space, I was fortunate to be able to ramp up my production scale as soon as there was demand and in turn grow my business very quickly.”

Photographing and Screen Printing, Photos via Bethany Shorb

Bethany believes that customers are “tiring of disposable culture,” and finds that “increasingly people want to buy into a story, not just a product. They want to buy from real people making real things with real histories…” and Detroit doesn’t fall short when it comes to real people producing these memorable goods.

“Detroit’s makers provide that accessible story while also providing a product that fits the client’s needs,” Bethany explained. “Along with a great sense of community, Detroit is a wonderful home-base to make things.”

Perhaps Bethany’s love for Detroit will shine throughout her upcoming solo show at Metro-Detroit’s 323 East Gallery, which opens this October and uses reclaimed materials from the commodity that made Detroit famous. “Recently I’ve been exploring a series of screenprinted work on metal, paired with reclaimed automotive emblem text; and a series of sculptural pieces made from deployed airbag fabric,” she said.

Of course, the thriving art community in Bethany’s city isn’t her only source of inspiration. Her design ideas come from everything from current trends to the desire to reboot antiquated styles by giving them a modern flair.

Cyberoptix TieLab Studio in Detroit, Mich., Photos via Bethany Shorb

She described a few places where she finds those sparks for new designs: “While I can still sometimes get caught up with the immediacy of pop culture (running an internet-business means I’m plugged in, non-stop), I like to look toward objects and ideas not made in the last five minutes, including natural history, medical ephemera, and Victorian botanical drawings and architectural renderings. Some of my favorite days are spent in dusty museum cabinets of curiosities or looking back at retro-future projections of what people thought it may look like in a hyper-stylized year 2000.”

Once Bethany has a firm image of the design in her head, she doesn’t spend a great deal of time “ruminating on other versions.” Always thinking about how the vertical shape of the tie influences each pattern, she begins manipulating photos from her own camera or digitally assembling the pieces that will eventually be the basis for a unique illustration.

“Once I think it’s about done, I’m pretty old-school about printing it out on tabloid-sized paper and just holding up the finished design over a few different necktie sizes on a lightbox and then burning it right to screen once it’s the correct size, ” she said. “I’m not a fan of rulers.”

Her aversion to rulers certainly hasn’t stunted the quality of her work, and we’re thrilled to offer several Bethany’s latest creations. When asked which of these designs is her personal favorite, she was a little indecisive, but answered with two options that happen to be on our favorites list as well.

Beer! Hops Tie. Photo by Bethany Shorb

“I’m definitely guilty of being seduced by the new, so probably my most recent design, [the Bike Chain Tie] is my current favorite,” said Bethany. “I’m also particularly drawn to the more pattern-based designs, ones that look like a traditional necktie motif, but have a little something extra hidden within the pattern that you might not realize is there until up close to the wearer. The Beer design is a near second – ties proclaiming one’s affinity for the tasty beverage are not always the most elegant, so I enjoy being able to put a different spin on the often less-than-classy beer tie.”

Finally, after giving us a look into her creative and technical process and providing a little prompt to those who aren’t quite sure which stylish tie to purchase first, Bethany also left us with a bit of advice on seeking an education in art and aspiring to build a business in art, design, or even another seemingly unrelated field.

“I like to think that my schooling in art taught me how to design and see in a holistic manner, rather than the simple mastery of a particular craft, technique or tool,” she said. “I firmly believe a quality art education can be applied to any discipline.” She went on to explain, “I’m completely self-taught in screen printing aside from one messy afternoon session on my friend’s kitchen table.” Evidence that learning the basics, and keeping an open mind when looking at the big picture, can go a long way.

Written by Cassie

Cassie spends most of her time at work writing things. She loves books (including comics), sketch comedy, and sci-fi. She's inspired by art and science. As a former Minnesotan, she longs for an afternoon on a lake, Grain Belt in hand. The New Yorker in her is happy spending that afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History instead.

3 Comments

  1. Keep English Alive

    Might I offer that while Bethany is, no doubt, the designer of the company’s principles, she is also its principal designer? This seems, to me, an important distinction.

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