Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Mike Conley’s Wooden Bow Tie [Interview]

Mike Conley’s Game 4 wooden bow tie.
Photo: Courtesy of @brandwills’ Instagram

As of last night, the Memphis Grizzlies are unfortunately officially out of the NBA Finals running now, with the San Antonio Spurs having been crowned the Western Conference champions. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley has proven himself time and time again a player to be reckoned with thanks to his unflinching determination and a winning combination of ability and heart, but it’s his makings as a star off the court that we’ll be remembering from this NBA Playoffs season (because FASHUN, duhhh). Stylist Brandon Williams has been outfitting Conley all season in crisp GQ-worthy duds that maintain an immaculate balance of being on-trend but still relatable to the majority of the male sportsball-watching public, with the biggest risk perhaps being his wooden bow tie worn after Game 4 of the Thunder v. Grizzlies series. We tracked down the origin of the timber accessory to Two Guys’ Bow Ties and caught up with co-founder Tim Paslay about Mike Conley, Ron Swanson, and what comes after wooden bow ties.

MTV STYLE: Can you talk to me a little bit about who the Two Guys are? It’s you and Adam, right?

TIM PASLAY: Yea, it’s me and my buddy, Adam Teague. I wouldn’t say either one of us were really fashion gurus or heavily involved in fashion before we started this, but we like to make things. We both had some experience with wood. I come from an art direction/production/designer background, I do some furniture and interior design stuff, so I’m always playing with materials. I work with wood, work with metal, work with concrete. I’ve just always liked making things, but with a lot of the stuff I make—kind of larger stuff like tables, furniture—it’s not the kind of stuff we can make a bunch of or have an impact on a lot of different people in that way, so we looked for some smaller scale product to make together. Then one night in the shop, I was working on some stuff and had the idea to make some wooden bow ties. I tend to be more the creative, free-spirit, not really good at following up, not following through on things of the two of us, and Adam is the one who makes sure we’re meeting deadlines, doing what we said we were going to do. I definitely knew I needed to partner with him to make this happen.

You’re like the right brain. He’s like the left brain.

Exactly. It’s a very good partnership. We fight a lot because we’re very different but at the same time, it better be a good idea whatever we bring to one another because we know the other’s going to challenge it and really question us and make sure that it’s good. From there, we kind of talked about different ideas, different materials. We tried bamboo because we liked the sustainability of it, but just the look of it and the way it worked, we didn’t like it, so we ended up starting out with domestic hardwoods like walnut or oak and kept expanding it from there.

You’re sitting at a pretty interesting interesting balance where a bow tie is a really classic, traditional, preppy thing, but taking it to a kind of mixed media with wood, that’s more of a fashion risk. How would you describe the Two Guys customer?

Well, there’s definitely not just one guy that we’re targeting or just one customer. Before we started this, I wasn’t someone who was looking at all the fashion blogs, trying to figure out what the next thing was going to be and try to be ahead of it and make a statement, but I didn’t just want to wear whatever, I still wanted to stand out or at least have my own kind of look. I liked the idea of a bow tie because there weren’t a lot of people doing it. Almost everyone is wearing bow ties now and can get away with wearing one, but before, it wasn’t exactly normal, and by incorporating the wood and the craftsmanship into it, it felt a little less flamboyant. It still was sleek and stylish and vogue, but it was this hybrid of on-trend and kind of this masculine, craftsman, handmade wood product. That’s probably who I envisioned early on. Somebody like Nick Offerman [who plays Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec]. On the show, they show him as kind of a woodworker, but that dude’s legit! [Offerman] has a fully-functioning separate business in his wood shop. He created a video, he handmade a canoe. That’s a guy that you might never see in a bow tie, but I felt like he was somebody that we could get into one if it were made of wood.

Wooden bow ties at the Kentucky Derby and MTV Movie Awards.
Photo: Courtesy of @styleiconllc’s Instagram/Getty Images

And now Mike Conley’s worn it, and I don’t know if you’ve seen any of our pictures, but a friend of ours in Louisville was Lauren Conrad’s ambassador at the Kentucky Derby. He’s somebody who’s really liked our bow ties and wears a lot of them. And Ray Dalton wore our one of our ties at the MTV Movie Awards. Timber product isn’t something that we really associated with hip hop and street culture, but I guess the ties do have a little of that edge or just something new that people have latched onto. Oh, and hipsters like them. They’re looking for something different, and there is kind of that maker, Etsy, handmade, local, I-only-drink-craft-beer element to the ties, too. Those are the people we feel like we’re reaching, but at the same time, we make a bow tie that we think anyone can wear. I think it’s different in a lot of ways, and there are a lot of things that people can grab onto.

There’s such a variance in inspiration and places that you’re pulling from that come together into this one thing that makes it easier for a lot of different cultures and intersections of people to latch onto it.


What were you guys doing before wooden bow ties?

Adam is kind of a serial entrepreneur. He’s had a couple of businesses; he had a pretty successful online business that he still runs. He actually prototyped another product that he’s working on, but as far as me, my wife and I do interior design together, and so we’ll work on some residential commercial projects, but we also work in production, so we’ll art direct, production design. We don’t live in Hollywood, we live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so it’s not like there’s one every single week.

But there’s that creative design element there. You’re still using that muscle.

I really like to research and at least try to grab on to something that is unique to them and incorporate them into the ties. I made a tie for Jimmy DiResta because I’m such a huge fan of his, and in a lot of his videos, he loves to spray paint everything. You look at his tables, you look at a lot of the stuff that he makes, you’ll see “DiResta” all over it. For his tie, I put his name “DiResta” in his kind of stencil on his tie. We always try to look for something to incorporate whether it’s just etching something meaningful on the back. The things we make get a lot of attention and care and we make sure to reflect that in the design.

Wooden bow ties by Two Guys’ Bow Ties.
Photo: Two Guys’ Bow Ties

Was Mike Conley’s tie custom?

That one actually wasn’t custom. As you know, the NBA Playoffs fashion deal has just kind of blown up. It hasn’t been overnight; it’s been a slow process ever since the NBA changed the dress code.

Right, the David Stern dress code mandate in ’05.

Yes. And with Rachel Johnson and LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire, and then Calyann Barnett with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, they’re really trying to take it to another level. I’m a huge NBA fan. I love basketball. My wife played in college and professionally. The funny thing is, my wife actually played against Mike Conley back when we were growing up, so there was a personal connection there. He ended up going to Indiana and then to Ohio State, but he was originally from Arkansas, and we knew him then. I used to be just a basketball fan, but when we started the bow tie thing, I got into more of the fashion stuff or at least was cognizant of it and paying attention to it. Those two stylists, Rachel Johnson and Calyann Barnett, are the ones who have the really high profile clients, but Calyann gave credit to Mike Conley and said he had the best look she had seen so far in the Playoffs, so I started looking into his style and found out that it was Brandon Williams. I contacted him and asked if he might be interested in some ties, and he said, “Yea, I’m about to go to a fitting,” so I didn’t have any time to get anything custom-made.

Very cool. I saw on Friday night, you guys sent some ties over to the TNT crew with Shaq and Barkley.

Yea, that was a pretty interesting story. I had talked to Brandon Williams, and he was kind enough to give me a heads up that Mike would be wearing a tie. He had originally told me it’d be for Game 2, but that was his best game. He nearly had a triple double; he had like 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 or 9 assists, and so he didn’t want to make this big fashion statement. He’s a really cool guy, really humble and not about the spotlight, so he ended up switching outfits and wore it for Game 4 instead. Well, Game 4 went into overtime, and the team photographer wasn’t able to get a shot of him wearing it walking in. He didn’t get up on the podium until TNT had already turned off. Not as many people got to see it as we’d obviously liked, but we were still excited about it. […] The next night, I was in the shop working on some stuff, and I ended up getting a text from Brandon and a couple phone calls from some buddies, and they said a reporter had stopped Mike and that they had done a little sideline interview, [pitting his bow tie against Ernie Johnson’s]. […] It cut back to the studio, and they all started talking about it. Charles said it looked like a dog bone. Shaq started kind of laughing about that and making comments, and Ernie said, “Send me a wooden bow tie. I’ll try it out.” It was clear he wanted us to send them to him, but we didn’t have an address. You can’t just write “Ernie Johnson” on a package and imagine it to shows up on his door.

It’s not like Santa Claus.

Yes, exactly. So Lang Whitaker ended up emailing me saying, “Hey, I hope you saw the Inside the NBA deal last night. Ernie wants a bow tie,” and then he gave me his address. We made the custom ties for Charles and Shaq because they kind of ragged on them. And I understand, it’s outside the box and something a little different. There is kind of a sense of people trying too hard with fashion, you know, they’re doing something different just to be different.

Yea, but if it works, it works. Mike Conley made it work to the point where you don’t even bat an eye that it’s wooden. It adds an interesting depth to the look by being made of something unexpected, but it’s not crazy flashy or anything. Shaq wearing the bow tie on his head like a Gerber baby, though…

Exactly! Obviously, if we were picking a celebrity, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and even Russell Westbrook get more publicity, but at the same time, they’re out there doing the fashion runway thing. Brandon’s outfit for Mike, he paired it with the tan leather shoes and leather belt, and it worked. That’s an outfit that I could wear out. We were ecstatic. If you look at all his work that he’s put Mike in this year, he’s got Mike looking great, and it’s not a trying-too-hard look. Brandon’s doing a great job. With Ernie, obviously he wears the bow ties, so we just sent him some of our bow ties. For Charles, that’s where I like creating the custom things. I was able to find pictures of Charles Barkley’s dogs [which I laser-etched onto the tie], and I knew their names because they talk about them all the time on that show, Mango and Yoohoo, and that was a great thing that I appreciated about Shaq and Charles. I was a little bit leery that they would rag on them and would call then dog bones again, but they genuinely seemed to have a great time, and they were great sports about it, so that was a huge highlight for me.

That was awesome, and I mean, you did kind of get to stick Charles with that dog bone-shaped one, so I think it’s clear you were able to level a little. Are there any other players that you would want or could picture wearing the wooden bow ties?

Early on, we thought Russell Westbrook would be the one that would be the first to try it because he’s always doing the crazy stuff AND he’s in Oklahoma. [..] Just from a personal standpoint, no fashion, LeBron James is one of my favorite players. He’s incredible, but I didn’t really like his red floral print. I really liked what he wore for his NBA MVP acceptance. I thought that was great.

Ahh, so you’re more into classic GQ LeBron than toeing-into-hypebeast LeBron.

Exactly. An NBA fashion blogger did pair one of our bow ties with a cork version of his Tens. That was interesting, but that wasn’t an actual outfit that we’ve seen.

Do you think that after seeing what’s happening with fashion in the NBA that other sports will follow suit? Or do you think that it’ll just stay a predominantly NBA phenomenon?

I bet it’ll stay just NBA. If you look at just a body type standpoint, NBA players have kind of the prototypical [lean model shape]. I guess there are some football players, but they tend to be the bulkier type and are harder figures to dress. Their kind of Hulks; their job is to bulldoze you. It’s tough to make a bulldozer look good. And just from a logistical standpoint, there are fewer players going to press conferences in the NFL. I mean, I guess if you had your quarterback dress up, that might work, but in the NBA, you have 20-30 games in the Playoffs where the focus and attention is just so concentrated that it gives this unique platform, whereas in the NFL, a player only gets 3 shots in the Playoffs to get this kind of attention. It’s just not the same amount of opportunities to try and get this shine. I say it’ll probably just stay with the NBA.

It’s a very unique situation, you’re right.

It’s kind of like this perfect storm. And going back to Michael Jordan, I can’t think of any football players that have this same branding or endorsement deals. With a basketball player, they can kind of create this persona, this brand. Obviously, the fashion works as a part of that.

So as far as Two Guys, where do you think you’ll go from here? Do you think you’ll make other wooden accessories or will you try to make bow ties from other materials?

I don’t think we really know. We just want to keep developing. The paint is kind of the first next step. It was kind of the easiest and it was logical, but we want it to take risks, we want to try different things. We don’t want it to just be a novelty, one-time deal, we want it to be legit. That it’s design and that it’s thoughtful and we’re not just throwing something together to try and make money. We care about it, we like it. We have added some cufflinks, we’ll do that. Those aren’t a big reach for us and they fit right in with what we’re trying to do. I wouldn’t say that anything is out of reach for sure.

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