WBTT's Travis Ray Finds Divine Success in Dapper Style

Arts & Culture


Three years ago, Travis Ray had a dream. Or was it divine inspiration? A black angel appeared to him, hovering above, something clutched in her hand that he couldn’t quite make out. As the angel approached, he saw that it was a swatch of African print fabric and he saw that fabric form itself into the distinctive shape of a bow tie. The angel dropped it upon Ray’s head and it fell into his hands and into his lap. Then more angels appeared, more than he could count and all bearing patterned fabrics of their own, the seraphim of style draping them over Ray’s head until he was buried in a textile cocoon. He awoke and turned to his spouse. “I’m going to start my own bow tie business,” he said. He would name it The Dapper Bowtique.

That Ray didn’t actually know how to make a bow tie seemed a small hurdle. Besides, he’d known how to tie one since he was in kindergarten. How much harder could it be to make one? It helped that he’d been sewing since the 7th grade. And with a 30-minute lesson from a friend and the sunroom converted into a home studio, Ray quickly began churning out one-of-a-kind accessories for friends and family. And himself. “The bow tie spoke to me since kindergarten,” Ray says, but in all this time he’s never been able to find any that matched his personal taste. “They were always conservative,” he says, and limited to solid colors and maybe a polka dot or two. Ray wanted something more. And as it turns out, a lot of other people did too.

Today, The Dapper Bowtique has blossomed from a side-project into a full-fledged business, selling Ray’s handmade bow ties and pocket squares online and in retail stores in Sarasota and Tampa, including as a recent addition to The Bazaar on Apricot & Lime. He takes orders from all across the country, shipping his signature style everywhere from New York City to LA, from Houston to Chicago. He’s now known for his penchant for eclectic patterns and colorful African prints, which he imports from western and southern Africa—particularly Ghana, Mali, Cameroon and South Africa—and for an approach that eschews collections in favor of an ever-changing assortment of offerings that, once sold, have no guarantee of reappearing on the market. “I switch it up every time,” says Ray. “It’s always evolving and, for me, that really speaks to the sense of it being custom and uniquely made for each individual.”

And while the coronavirus pandemic may have hampered his work with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, where he’s performed for seven seasons and serves as Associate Managing Director, it only re-energized The Dapper Bowtique, which quickly pivoted to making custom facemasks with those trademark African prints. And with his online presence exploding, the Dapper Bowtique is now selling out consistently, as customers embrace the dapper side of life. “Dapper identifies a gentleman,” Ray says.

Pictured: Travis Ray, photography by Lori Sax.

Click for more on The Dapper Bowtique.

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