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"Modern Family" actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and partner Justin Mikita are launching a line of bowties on Nov. 15 in partnership with Thetiebar.com, with portion (most) of proceeds going to fund groups fighting for marriage equality. Pictured, the Signature Navy bowtie.

Handout, Mct - Mct

“Modern Family” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times

Stylepoints: Fashion statement

  • Article by: ADAM TSCHORN
  • Los Angeles Times
  • November 29, 2012 - 3:28 PM

Emmy-nominated actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays the lawyer half of a gay couple on the hit ABC comedy "Modern Family," and his real-life partner, Justin Mikita, are mixing fashion with political activism.

The recently engaged pair are behind a limited-edition, 20-piece collection of neckwear called Tie the Knot that recently went on sale through online retailer the Tie Bar. Proceeds from sales of the all-silk, self-tie bow ties are earmarked to benefit groups working for same-sex marriage.

Ferguson, 37, said he started thinking about delving into the bow tie business about a year ago.

"I wear a lot of bow ties, and we thought this would be a fun way to dip our toes into the fashion world in a simple, easy, low-key way," he said. "I wasn't looking to design a full clothing line."

It was Mikita's idea to make the fashion statement a philanthropic one. A development associate with the nonprofit American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group that brought the federal court case seeking to overturn California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative outlawing same-sex marriage in the state, he suggested using the proceeds to support groups working toward marriage equality.

Ferguson said that trying to line up manufacturing and retail partners in the early stages of the project "felt like a slow-moving train."

Mikita, 27, thinks that's at least partially because of the cause it's backing. "It's such a high-profile social issue right now," he says, "that I think major corporations are tentative to get behind it."

Then, Ferguson decided to reach out to the Tie Bar, a Chicago-based e-tailer of men's furnishings from which he'd purchased neckties.

"I think we just looked up their contact information on the website and called them up," Ferguson said. "And I think we were talking to them about an hour later. Once they said they'd do it, it was full speed ahead."

Greg Shugar, who started the Tie Bar with his wife, Gina, in 2004, knows gay marriage can be a divisive issue.

"As a business you try to stay away from hot-button political issues," he said, "but for whatever reason [same-sex marriage] has always been an issue with me."

So Shugar decided that the risk of alienating a few customers would be outweighed by the benefit to civil rights. And, as he had expected, he did lose a few customers.

"When the partnership was first announced back in September, we did get a few guys who said, 'I'll never order from you again'" he said. "But we also had customers who said, 'I'm proud that your company is doing this,' and 'I used to like your company but now I love your company,' and I wasn't expecting that. All I'd been able to think about was the negative -- about having customers leave us."

Personal design

The Tie Bar isn't just the exclusive retailer of the bow tie collection. It also is the design and manufacturing partner for the line, helping shepherd Ferguson and Mikita's vision from design inspiration to finished product.

"We would send them photos of things that inspired us," Ferguson said, "and they would create fabric designs based on that inspiration and we would tweak them from there. I didn't actually think it could be that easy."

The design inspiration for the ties is as personal to them as the cause. Ferguson said pieces in their home were the starting points for several of their ties. Even their dog, Leaf, unwittingly inspired a design.

"Our dog came back from the dog groomer's one day wearing a bandanna, which is what inspired these," Ferguson said, holding up two bandanna-print ties, one red and one blue. "We named this style the Jack & Ennis after the characters in 'Brokeback Mountain.'"

The initial Tie the Knot line consists of 15 butterfly-style bowties, plus five ties with diamond tips. Each tie was produced in a limited run of just 200 pieces. All net proceeds -- roughly $20 of each $25 tie -- will be donated. Mikita said the estimated $80,000 raised from the first collection will be given to the Human Rights Campaign.

A spring collection is already in the planning stages, and, if the concept catches on, the couple have discussed saying "I do" to a whole range of products.

"We're thinking about doing cuff links with the owls on them," Ferguson says, "or maybe teaming up with a really great stationery company to make wedding invitations. And we've talked about doing wedding bands, [scarves] for women and pocket squares. But we like the idea of keeping it in the wedding arena."

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