Mon, Mar 23, 2015 - Page 12 News List

From Yongle Market to the NBA

An unplanned visit to a rundown fabric market in the heart of Taipei was the first step toward an English teacher becoming a founder of a successful US handcratfed bow tie company

by Dominic Wallace  /  Staff reporter

A sampling of Bowyer & Fletcher handcrafted bow ties.

Photo courtesy of Jahmal Landers

In November, 2011, Jahmal Landers found himself wandering aimlessly through Taipei’s Dihua Street (迪化街) market area. Having indulged in one cup too many of oolong tea, his bid to locate a bathroom led him unwittingly into a building that would change his life.

The rundown concrete structure, built in 1908 during the Japanese colonial era and today called Yongle Market (永樂市場), is unimpressive from the outside. But what lies within on the building’s second floor is truly exceptional.

“I was overwhelmed. It was bustling, not unlike an ordinary Taipei street, but it was a world unto itself, where creative energy had the place buzzing,” Landers said.

WARDROBE RENOVATION

A self-confessed addict of popular television shows Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, Landers, 31, said it was such cult period dramas that drove his desire to renovate his wardrobe in a bid to emulate the undeniable elegance of characters such as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson and Don Draper.

Landers added that three highly fashionable British guys he once lived with in Taiwan taught him about designers like Ozwald Boetang. One friend, who worked for a British luxury clothing brand, even promised to teach him how to tie a bow tie. He never did, but it piqued Lander’s interest.

“Once I learned how to tie one, I was looking for self-tie bow ties in Taipei, but I couldn’t find many, so I decided to take a sewing class because I wanted to make some myself,” he said.

NAVIGATING YONGLE MARKET

Landers, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, said it took half-a-dozen trips to the Yongle fabric market, where he scoured the collections of each vendor, before he began to get his bearings.

“At first I would get disoriented and forget where I saw certain patterns that I really wanted, but by the 10th visit I had built up relationships with some of the vendors and knew exactly where to go,” he said.

His first purchase from the fabric market was a tartan-patterned Italian silk wool blend.

“As soon as I arrived home, I was able to appreciate the quality of the fabric and how much of a commodity it was, so I turned around and immediately headed back to the market to buy more. It was nearly NT$3,000 per yard,” he said.

Each trip provided Landers with a uniquely different experience and the discovery of new materials.

“I would buy as much as I could carry and make a mental note of what I wanted to grab on my next adventure. Whatever I left behind for the next trip would haunt me,” he said.

addicted to bow TIES

Working at the time as an English teacher, Landers spent every hour outside of the classroom indulging in his new addiction. At first, the thickset martial arts enthusiast — weighing 104kg, standing 1.83m tall and the proud owner of “two sets of sausage fingers” — would use a simple needle and thread in his painstakingly slow mission to achieve his goal.

However, eventually his eagerness to achieve more in a shorter space of time led him to purchase a Juki sewing machine, much to the disbelief of his housemates.

“Sometimes I would forget to eat or sleep. My girlfriend felt like I was cheating on her with bow ties. It was a love affair of sorts. It was invigorating to sit in my little closet with my fabric and Juki sewing machine, just sewing until my heart was content. I felt alive,” he said.

“It was my zen time,” he added.

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