Marketplace Innovators

Wooden Bow Ties from W.K. Wilson

Bow ties creatively designed, skillfully handcrafted, and wonderfully unique.


Shawn Wilson models one of his innovative bow ties. Photo by Steven Vargo.

“A bow tie guy is not like every guy. He is not afraid of being noticed.” -Shawn Wilson

A buzzing hum comes from the corner of a well-used workshop. My eyes track over to the sound and I see a small bright light reflected off the surface of golden wood. The light is gently jutting about, leaving behind a toasted line on the wood’s surface. My brain starts to connect the dots. I am watching a laser wood cutter burn intricate patterns onto a sheet of wood.

I have been invited into the creative space of Shawn Wilson, maker of wooden bow ties which he sells under the name W.K. Wilson. His beautiful bow ties are creatively designed, skillfully handcrafted, and wonderfully unique.

Shawn is quiet-spoken and modest. He tells me about how he once lived the 9 to 5 corporate life, but how, at one point, his priorities changed.

Shawn tells me about Max, his neighbor, friend, mentor, and inspiration. Max is an unforgettable character. He is 92-years-old, rail-thin, and sports an impressive handlebar mustache. Max is a beloved member of his community and is known locally as “Mr. Bow Tie.” He owns a bow tie collection of more than 500 atypical and unusual pieces, including insects, troll dolls, yarn, an impressive collection of patterns, such as herringbone, polka dot, and paisley, and in every color imaginable.

To celebrate Max’s 90th birthday, Shawn and his wife, Michael Ann, wanted to gift Max something unique. Together, they brainstormed, designed, and then created their first wooden bow tie as a gift for their friend. From there, the wooden bow tie idea continued to grow, and W.K.Wilson was born.

Shawn and Michael Ann work together to move their ideas forward. They have been encouraged and supported by both friends and family, and also by the community of creatives that they meet as they work to grow their business. Shawn’s face lights up as he tells me about these people, and then he says, “the journey is worth it. You learn you can do hard things.”

Near the end of my visit, Shawn shares something else with me. He tells me about Max’s great-granddaughter. Brielle was born with an incredibly rare birth defect and given only months to live. In 2017, Brielle celebrated her fourth birthday.

Last June, the Wilson’s participated in a fundraiser to support Brielle and her family. They continue that support by donating a percentage of their annual gross sales from W.K. Wilson to Children and the Earth, Inc., a local nonprofit that assists children and their families who are facing hard battles.

Before I leave, I ask where Shawn wants to be in five years.

“I want to own a small business that is eclectic and not like any other place, one that is driven by creativity and design before money. We want to do this so it frees us up to help other people.”

Learn more about Shawn and Michael Ann, as well as, Max, Brielle, and Children and the Earth, Inc.

To see more of Steven Vargo’s photography visit his website.

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