Exclusive interview with teen entrepreneur Ayinde Muhammad: "Do not be afraid to try something new."

(Blogger's Note: I connected with Ayinde Muhammad on Twitter after his mother was pushing his bowtie company heavily on the social media platform! I was impressed with his products that I received and this is our one-on-one interview.)

Brother Jesse Muhammad (BJ): Please give our readers a little background about yourself (age, parents, siblings, schooling, etc).

Ayinde Muhammad (AM): I have been born and raised in what we like to call the R.O.C (Rochester, NY). I am 15 years old and the eldest of 5 (soon to be 6) siblings. My parents have homeschooled all of us since forever and we enjoy it.

My father works in the public school system as a vice principal. Both of my parents have been very supportive with whatever I or my siblings have wanted to accomplish. Whether it is making bowties, playing a musical instrument, cooking, or many other endeavors, my parents have always backed it 100%.

BJ: Who or what inspired you to start your own company at such a young age? 

AM: My inspiration was not this momentary phenomenon in which I just woke up and said, “I’m going to make bowties!” It was actually the exact opposite. At thirteen, I went to a business camp called Biz Kid$. I had wanted to create my own business since I was six, so I was excited when I learned of this business program. I went to Biz Kid$, and in that one week camp, the excitement I felt turned into pure elation. I had learned about marketing, the value of objects, first impressions, permits and licenses, and much more. With the intuition of the basics of business, I was always thinking of ways to have something to call my own that nobody could take from me. So really, my inspiration just came from my surroundings and what I have learned from the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught to him by Master Fard Muhammad.

BJ: How did you learn to make bowties? When and why did you choose to launch Ayinde's Family Ties? 

AM: One day, I was getting ready for school when my mom told me that it would be “creative day”. I was fourteen years old. I thought about what I should create. Drawing wasn’t my thing, and macaroni art was definitely out of the question, but I was clueless to what I wanted to construct. As I opened my drawer to get my clothes for that day, I accidently opened the drawer with all my bowties. I was then reminded of all the bowties that I had seen. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Hmmmmm. I went and said to my mom, “Mom, I’m going to try something today. Do you have any fabric?” “Um, maybe. You would have to check. Why?” While still in deep thought, I told her I was thinking of creating something different.

I searched thoroughly, but found nothing that wasn't in use. I then searched my bowtie drawer. I looked for any kind of straight tie that my grandmother had given me over the years that I NEVER wore. Then I found what would soon be my first bowtie ever. Under all of my bowties was a silverfish gray tie with lavender, blue, and light blue polka dots all outlined in black. I took it, went down stairs and got to work.

Then, after multiple finger pricks and thumb burns, numerous YouTube and Bing searches that didn't help at all, and 2-3 hours of adrenaline and excitement, the first bowtie I ever created was brought into the world. The fact that I taught myself for the most part was an added bonus to my pride. The bowtie was smaller and a whole lot less firm than my refined versions today, but it was the first bowtie I had made and I was satisfied.

When my dad came home and I showed him, his eyes were big and bright. “You made this?! Wow that’s VERY impressive. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make one for a while now and here you go already making them!” After that, I started taking my father’s bowties he didn't want. I used reverse engineering methods on all of them to see what kept them together. I found certain bowties used different methods. I found which method was more dependable and I would speak with my father about which way was best. After obtaining the information we needed from the deconstructed bowties, my father and I started refining things in regards to the pattern of the bowtie. We also added a handkerchief pattern, then refined the size of that pattern, re-refined the bowtie pattern, and finally after a couple months in the laboratory, the bowties you have now are the final products.

When extreme bowtie makeover was done, the question came up for vending at Saviours’ Day. Talking about selling them in general was awesome as it was for me, but selling at Saviours’ Day? Those waters had never been charted. I had of course seen other brothers selling bowties as me and my father went on our yearly quests to find that “perfect bowtie” that you know will just set a suit over the top. As I got older, my sense of style changed and my expectations were rising because I usually knew what kind of bowties I was looking for.

Yet, finding that “perfect bowtie” became more difficult to accomplish as years passed. Of course we also had our usual spots that we looked in. Brother Kenneth, who at that time was in NYC, was one of my favorites. His bowties always looked well built and he usually had my styles. Though as my demand for certain styles increased, sometimes even his bowties did not satisfy my craving. As I started growing older, the bowties started getting weird. It seemed to me that the neat, pressed bowtie that I was accustomed to was cruelly replaced with this flared out, loosely made piece of cloth that was only held together with the wrap around piece and the clip.

My father and I also noticed that the prices started inclining higher. When I was about seven years old, bowties were from a range of about seven to nine dollars. By the time I was twelve bowties had already reached the ten to twelve dollar mark, and by the time I was thirteen, they were pushing fourteen dollars! I started small first, selling them at my Study Group. The brothers were literally jumping when I said I made them and kept saying how they looked great. One brother said to me, “Brother, if you keep this up, you could put Rochester on the map.”

I thought about that for a while and realized that this could be an outlet for my own revenue. I wouldn't have to depend on my parents for money or things I would want to have. As I have stated before, I was always thinking of ways to own a business to call my own. I decided that summer that I would make my bowtie making official. During this time I was engaged in a gut wrenching process of deep thought, thinking of a name. Ayinde’s Bowties and Ayinde’s Ties seemed too plain, and Bowties by Ayinde was the name of Brother Kenneth’s business with his name switched out. Then finally we came up with Family Ties, which was a great play on words, because most of my family did, in fact, help with the planning of this big project of selling bowties.

On August 1, 2012, I acquired a DBA (Doing Business As….) permit. This permit gave me legal certification to become an official business. After that thrilling experience, we decided to go along with selling at Saviours’ Day.

BJ: Amazing! How has your clientele grown since you launched? What are some of the places you've had orders shipped to? 

AM: My clientele has made a significant incline since I first started selling bowties. At first, I was just selling them to the brothers in our study group and some family friends once in a while. Of course it wasn't as big as it is now, because I was just starting out. But, I did start making moves of my existence. My biggest order of bowties ever was for a brother in Utica, NY my father and I know well that works in the prisons. He said he needed 22 black satin bowties for our incarcerated brothers. I worked like a mad man getting those bowties done and when he received them, he said that it was beautiful work.

I even sent Brother Student Minister Abdul (and his son Abdul Jr.), in Chicago, IL some bowties and he wore his bowtie during one of his lectures. I sent several bowties to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and I’m still waiting to see the epic reveal☺.

After vending Saviours’ Day, my clientele has skyrocketed. I have received emails, phone calls, and sent bowties to brothers in New York, Arizona, Colorado, and of course Texas, where my brother Jesse resides. Praise be to Allah, even brothers from as far as France have commented on my work. I also sent some bowties to Sis. Kiana (Co-Owner of Kr3ative Krafts) in Gary, Indiana for a business party she was hosting.

BJ: What makes your bowties unique? How are you planning to grow your company? 

AM: What makes my bowties unique is the style. It’s not so big to where it would look like a junior F.O.I’s whole neck, and it’s not so small to where a big brother could break it with one hand. The majority of my bowties are made from a brocade fabric which is an elaborate style of material with a raised pattern. This type of material usually has an Asian or Middle Eastern influenced design. A lot of times when you see or feel a bowtie, it’s just the material and fabric. But with the bowties I have been blessed to be able to make, you can see some 3D effect at times; you can feel the stitching, or see some colors literally pop out of the fabric. In addition, the way that they are built is another factor. I would rather get a plain bowtie that is sturdy and will last, than a flashy bowtie that doesn’t last more than one Sunday. But I believe with these bowties, you can get a flashy bowtie, or something less extravagant, and still not have to worry about it falling apart in your hands.

In terms of growing my company, Insha’Allah I plan on vending for Saviours’ Day more and building revenue. Once I have saved enough, I want to have a store and keep expanding. If all goes well, you might even see me in The Final Call, or in a prestigious business catalog.

BJ: What is your advice to other teenagers who desire to do for self? What book(s) would you recommend they read to get inspired? 

AM: My advice to other teenagers who would like to do for self is DO NOT be afraid to try something new. There was a quote I remember reading that stated, “Professionals built the titanic, but amateurs built the ark.” That means to me that even if you're unfamiliar with doing something or creating something, you can probably do it just as effectively as others who have done that profession for a living. When I sold my bowties at Saviours’ Day, everyone knew I was new to the experience of vending. But other brothers that sold bowties saw mine and stated that they were well made or had nice designs. Some even gave me pointers on how to make them better. So I think that once you do what you think is right, though it may work the nerves a little, as long as you know for a fact that you want to do that, then don't let anyone stop you.

In terms of books that could help guide my fellow teenage peers, Message to the Blackman is TOP PRIORITY. That book contains numerous chapters on doing for self, as well as having our own. In addition to that, just read as many business books as you can. I know that as I am still growing in learning this business, I will be reading books like How White Folks Got So Rich by the NOI Research Team and The Entrepreneur Mind by Kevin D. Johnson.

I’m thankful to Allah that I can be a positive influence to other teenagers. I pray that any youth owned or operated business will become successful. If you ever need motivation to help you get going, look no further than to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. He has repeatedly stated that the youth are his BEST helpers and that always gets me hype when I know I am helping the Man of God in our midst.

BJ: Thank you for the tight bowties I received and may Allah continue to bless you with success in all of your righteous endeavors!

(For more information on Ayinde's Family Ties, connect with him on Twitter @AYFamilyTies or send an email to familyties.bowties@hotmail.com)

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