Arts and Culture

When the fire at Whiskey Row was finally squelched last summer, Ali Muhammad saw opportunity in the piles and piles of singed, historic wood that remained.

“Whiskey Row is such a historic building they didn’t really want to give me the wood at first,” Muhammad, 23, says. “But after a conversation about what I was doing, they actually became interested in my ability to make bow ties out of the wood.”

That’s right — bow ties. It might sound like a craft project that could be found on Etsy, but these bow ties have a distinctly Louisville twist. Muhammad, and his fiancée, Maya Williamson, are salvaging piles of discarded wood from historic building restoration projects to craft their accessories.

Bow TiesAshlie Stevens | wfpl.org

A mock up of bow tie designs.

“We were in a trade program called the Samuel Plato Academy of Historic Restoration and Preservation,” Muhammad says. “At that time we were using whatever wood we found, but since we were in a restoration class, we began going into buildings pulling wood.”

But it can’t be just any old building. Muhammad says all his pulls come from buildings on the National Historic Registry list.

“So when investment groups go in and put money into a building on the list, we’ll get what’s thrown away,” he says. “There’s always wood thrown away, and we’ll take that wood and make wooden bow ties.”

The emphasis on historic preservation doesn’t stop there. The pair decided on the brand name StoryWood Bowties, and the tag line: “What story are you wearing?” To that end, Muhammad and Williamson do copious amounts of research on the buildings from where they pull the wood.

Muhammad says when you buy one of their creations, you aren’t just buying a bow tie; you’re buying a mini-history lesson too.

“We don’t just do Google research,” he says. “We go to the Filson Historical Society, pull names, and will see if those people are still alive.”

wooden bowtieCourtesy Storywood Bowties

From there, Muhammad and Williamson shave down the wood into thin strips, mock up bowtie designs using an AutoCAD program at GE’s FirstBuild — a community maker space — and cut out different pieces on a laser cutter. Williamson then adheres the wooden pieces together, and sews the fabric for the tie.

The venture is distinctly “Louisville” in another way too. Muhammad and Williamson have received support — both financial and mentorship opportunities — from local organizations like KIVA, The Kentucky Youth Career Center, Greater Louisville Inc. and Jefferson Community and Technical College.

“I feel very honored by the city of Louisville for all the help they’ve given us,” Williamson says.

More information about StoryWood Bowties can be found here.