For years, it’s been common wisdom that American factories cannot make knit ties. Ask any American neckwear designer or manufacturer, and they’ll sigh longingly and tell you that the machines just don’t exist anymore. If you want to make knit neckwear, you have to go to Italy or China. Or do you? Neckwear veteran Paul Eilenberg quietly introduced a colorful collection of American-made knit ties earlier this year.
It started in October of last year. Five Star Accessories, a fourth-generation company based in Brooklyn, was looking to expand their offerings. Eilenberg suggested getting into knit ties, and when they asked if he had a Chinese manufacturer in mind, he told them he wanted to try an American mill. They thought he was crazy.
Eilenberg has a background in neckwear and costume jewelry, and in manufacturing in America. His costume jewelry business had a large market share in the men’s accessories business until less expensive Chinese goods forced Visa Jewelry and its 75-person factory to close. He’s currently the director of the Mallard Luxury Group in Great Neck, New York. Through Five Star, Eilenberg markets the Valentini brand, which includes belts, suspenders and scarves.
Armed with his rolodex—”It goes back 40 years,” Eilenberg boasts—he came up with the name of an American mill that had been making knit ties in the ’80s. When he visited the mill, its owners showed him the old machines, long out of use and covered in burlap in a corner. The machines could do anything, they told him, but much of the expertise in running them was gone. Solids wouldn’t be a problem, they added, but stripes would take some experimentation. After making hundreds of samples, Eilenberg and the mill not only made stripes, but diagonals as well. (“This was the trickiest one to perfect—just mind-blowingly difficult,” he says of the diagonal stripes.)
The next issue was yarns. Eilenberg first thought of using cotton (as opposed to wool), and then came up with the idea of using recycled fibers. He settled on Eco2 cotton, which is made in Lincolnton, Georgia.
The finished product is being marketed under Five Star’s Valentini brand for now, and Eilenberg launched them at MAGIC last February. The ties don’t have a satin neckband, which keeps the price down. To add the band, Eilenberg says he’d have to send the ties to another factory—his knitting mill can’t do it. They’re currently wholesaling for $10, with a suggested retail of $30. “I’ve got inventory on everything I make,” he says.
For custom jobs, he admits he “can’t start the machines for less than 12 or 15 dozen of a colorway at a time.” But widths and designs are flexible. “These are 2.25 inches wide, but it doesn’t take much more yarn to make them three inches wide. I’m limited only by someone’s imagination.”
Photos by John Jones