Bowtie Maven in KC

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Anna Gudmundsson’s home studio is really just a little desk with a sewing machine next to her bed at her Kansas City apartment, but the twenty-something designer says she doesn’t need much more space. After all, it’s not like she’s sewing wedding gowns. Just the groomsmen’s bowties.

She never would have imagined that a chance request for some homemade bowties four years ago would lead to a career, but after an article in The New York Times came out in 2012 highlighting her products, Gudmundsson’s business was decided. Not many textile and apparel design graduates get to use their degrees the way they want to – but Gudmundsson, who graduated from the University of Missouri in 2010, is one of the fortunate few.

As Anna Runa, Gudmundsson not only outfits wedding parties with stylish bowties (and other forms of neckwear, plus pocket squares, suspenders and, hey, even something for the pooch). She fulfills custom orders for her particular creations around the globe – the map taped above her sewing machine is pinned with the most far-flung locations (she gets a surprising amount of orders from Australia).

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When The Flyover stopped in to chat with Gudmundsson, we had to have her model one of her bowties for us. She made quick work of it: “It’s just something I’ve done a few thousand times,” she told us with a laugh.

The Flyover: Give me a little background. Did you have any menswear inclination before your friend at The Midwest Style asked you to start making ties?

Anna Gudmundsson: I went to design school at the University of Missouri, and I just kind of had always been more interested in menswear. The guys from that blog knew that I sewed, and they were looking for bowties – this was just before bowties started to be readily available everywhere. So they just asked me to sew a couple, and I was like, “OK, I’ll figure it out.” I had one from a thrift store and I looked at it and I basically copied the pattern. I made them three or four, and they were like, “Hey, if you make a store – like an Etsy – we’ll promote it on our blog.” The blog was very popular at the time, but I was never really thinking anything of it. I made probably 20, and I went out of town for a few days and they all sold out. I worked overnight and made a few more and put them on the Etsy site and it just kind of kept going from there.

In May of 2012, I made my own website apart from the Etsy, and in the Fall I got a call from someone who was a contributing writer to the New York Times, and he was like, “I’m writing this thing on bowties, can you send me some?” And I was like, “Um, yes.” [Laughs]

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Tell me about the decisions that go into your particular design choices. I know that a bowtie pattern stays the same, but you’ve got some interesting colors and interpretations – including a doggie bowtie.

I try as much as I can to follow color and pattern trends. There was a time when the little floral prints were super popular, and I had a ton of those. I keep my eye open to see what other places are carrying and try to have things that are just a little different, a little more special. I like my designs to be unique. A lot of the time, though, I’ll put something out there and someone will be like, “I want something similar to this.”

The customizable aspect is really special to my designs. I print my own fabric sometimes, if someone wants a very specific color or pattern. I use Photoshop to make something and I send it to a company in South Carolina and they print for me. I’ve done that a few times.

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Do you have a lot of repeat orders?

Most of my repeat orders are the word-of-mouth local orders. I have a couple guys that I do custom stuff for that I meet with – they usually have a certain event to go to or they’re just bowtie enthusiasts. I sold a couple to [Kansas City Mayor] Sly James. He’s always got a bowtie on, and around Christmastime, I was at my friend’s house and he was on TV and they were like, “Hey, is that yours?” And I was like, “Yes. Yes it is.” And Michael Coleman, he’s a sports person for KCTV5, he’s ordered a couple.

A lot of times people don’t really know what they want, they just kind of have a direction, which is fun for me because then I can style or decide on my own.

How long have you been doing the doggie bowties?

[Laughs] Two years ago, someone saw a dog with one on and they were like, “You should do that!” And I did, and now I have this woman who owns a boutique in LA and I do mass quantities for her and she keeps re-ordering. It’s funny. I’m sure there’s much more of a demand for that kind of thing in that area than there is here.

Have the pocket squares, skinny ties, suspenders been born out of necessity?

Yeah, I had a lot of people asking me – I didn’t have the right resources or the machine for it in the beginning, and I didn’t have as much of a demand for it, so I pushed it off for a while. But on a whim, one time, I made some pocket squares, and then I figured out how to do the regular ties, and it kind of snowballed from there again. I guess the demand was there, I was just unaware of it – and once I started doing more wedding orders and that was an option, it seemed obvious and opened the doors for a lot more different clients.

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Is this the kind of designing you saw yourself doing?

Not really, actually. I really enjoy it, though. I like doing menswear because it’s classic and you can put your own spin on details here and there. I did women’s wear and we had to design full lines and you always have to think of a new product, a new silhouette, a new something, but with this, you can stick to the classics and use your creativity to make that new for the next season rather than try to create something completely new, which I enjoy. In my day job at Baldwin [Denim], I sew all day and then I come home and sew all night, and I’ve never complained about it. I love it.

Check out more of Anna Runa designs here.

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photography by Zach Bauman

Natalie Gallagher is the music editor at The Pitch Weekly. She was born in Texas, raised in Wisconsin, schooled in Minneapolis and currently holds it down in Kansas City, Missouri, where each day is a new flavor of barbecue.

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