Bow ties and business

Gibbs showing off one of his handcrafted bow ties.

Gibbs shows off one of his bow ties in 2019. Photo: Douglas Levere.

Shelden Gibbs, CEL ’20, has always had a passion for fashion — bow ties, in particular.

He loves them so much that when he went shopping, he got frustrated at the limited selection and started cutting up shirts to make his own. And when he wore these self-made ties out of the house, he would get so many compliments that he knew he was on to something.

So, at just 10 years old, Gibbs founded Classic Knot to bring his bow ties to the world.

“A bow tie is like a piece of art,” he says. “It adds character.”

As Gibbs has grown, so has his business. Though he still hand crafts each bow tie, he’s scaled up production, invested in new equipment and expanded his product line to include such accessories as socks, neckties and shirts.

“When I first started the business, I was a kid in an adult world,” he says. “There were some things I didn’t understand, and some adults just don’t take kids seriously. Now I’m at a point where I can grasp everything and run with it.”

Gibbs first connected with the School of Management in 2019 when he enrolled in the Ignite Buffalo Small Business Summer School, where — as a middle schooler — he joined more than 60 fellow entrepreneurs to create his business plan and master his pitch.

Then in 2020, he enrolled in the Core program at the School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership to help him take his business to the next level.

The flagship program of the CEL, Core empowers business owners to overcome challenges, create new opportunities and develop meaningful connections in the business community in a peer-based, mentor-driven program delivered over nine months.

“Core was great because I was able to network with other businesspeople and venture out with new ideas,” he says. “But the most important thing I learned was time management. They taught me how to prepare for my orders, or for when I have to do shows or speaking engagements. Balance is such a key.”

Balance is important through all aspects of Gibbs’ life, as he juggles his entrepreneurial responsibilities with the life of a highschooler. When he’s not running his business or studying, he also enjoys playing basketball and going to church with his family every Sunday.

That family, Gibbs says, is his main support team.

“It’s really a mental support because sometimes I may need a break and my mom will say, ‘maybe you just need to take a minute and come back to it,’” he says. “She also handles a lot of the statistics and logistics of the business, which helps a lot so I can focus on my product.”

Today, Gibbs is in grade 12 at Nichols School, where he participates in mock trial. After graduation, he plans to head to college and law school.

He also wants to give back to the next generation of aspiring young business owners by establishing a youth entrepreneurial mentorship program.

“When you’re a kid and you get into entrepreneurship you just have to keep pushing,” he says. “Don’t take no for an answer, because you never know when you’re going to get that ‘yes’ to spark your passion.”

Written by Kevin Manne