Christopher Lawrence is an interesting blend of artist and entrepreneur, a man who uses his self-started business to feed his creative passion.
His Broad Street menswear store, Silk con-Neck-tion, sells ties and scarves with patterns that he designs. Why would an artist choose a silk tie as his canvas? Because he owns a menswear store - why else?
"I design ties because of my clothing store, no doubt," Mr. Lawrence said. "I did not start out designing ties, but after a couple of years I decided I could and I realized I really wanted to. I've always been an artist - if I wasn't in menswear, it would come out some other way."
His neckwear has what he calls "personality." The bold, abstract patterns and bright color schemes seem to burst from the silk, mocking the monotony of a dull, traditional paisley or safe, conservative gray.
"A tie is a conversation piece," Mr. Lawrence said. "It can make the suit lay back or it can bring the suit out. At the same time, you can ruin a quality suit with a bad tie."
Mr. Lawrence began designing his own line of ties two years ago, and today his customers include state Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, and comedian and film star Steve Harvey.
"The majority of my ties are for the upscale, nontraditional tie wearer," Mr. Lawrence said. "We do some traditional designs, but most of my clientele want something different in neckwear. Something that will make a statement."
Mr. Lawrence sells many ties in Augusta, but most of his business comes from wholesaling to large menswear stores throughout the nation. His Lawrence neckwear line can be found in stores in Las Vegas, Atlanta, New York, and even Jamaica and Australia.
Each year, he travels to more than a dozen menswear trade shows throughout the country, earning $20,000 to $40,000 selling neckwear to retail merchants at a single show.
Recently, business has spiked. Mr. Lawrence said he is negotiating a deal to sell his ties in the gift shops on Carnival Cruise ships. Even more impressive, upscale menswear giant Bachrach Clothing Inc. has agreed to feature some of Mr. Lawrence's designs in an upcoming fashion catalog and stock them in some of the 75 Bachrach stores nationwide.
He had to sell the designs, and the ties will have a Bachrach label, but the exposure will be well worth it.
"If these designs do well, they'll come back for more," Mr. Lawrence said. "Bachrach can put me at another level as a designer."
Until recently, Mr. Lawrence had worked at Westinghouse Savannah River Co. as a chemical operator in addition to running his menswear business. He said he was laid off last week because of a misunderstanding with his supervisor. He had kept the job as a safety net for his wife and children. Now, the artist must feed the businessman.
The Bachrach and Carnival deals will help. At this point, it's difficult to say what Mr. Lawrence is most proud of: the creative spirit evident in his unique tie designs or the business savvy it takes to sell them.
"Design is my passion - this is what I enjoy doing," he said. "Westinghouse was something I did to provide a livelihood for my family. Something you don't want to do, but you have to. You don't enjoy it. But this I enjoy. It may not pay off in big numbers yet, but it's on the verge of paying off. Some people are noticing us."
Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or email@example.com.