A neckwear business rooted in China prospers in Chicago

Inside the corporate office of Shop4Ties on W Diversey Ave.

By Charlene Zhang
Medill Reports

“My daughter was given a Harvard logo shirt a decade ago by the school president, when Becky’s father Arnie mentioned me as the Harvard logo tie manufacturer in China,” said Michael Yin, the proud Chinese supplier of custom-made neckwear for Shop4Ties, a Chicago wholesaler and distributor.

Shop4Ties was founded in 1982 by Arnie Kapp, who quit his job at a tie shop on Michigan Avenue and started the business in a basement.

Becky Galvez, Kapp’s daughter, joined the company in 2011 after teaching Spanish at an international school, and took the reins as CEO with her mother Rhonda Kapp as chief financial officer in 2014 after Kapp passed away from colon cancer.

All the products have been manufactured outside the U.S. since the start of the company. Arnie Kapp had sent the orders to Korea until he met Michael Yin, owner of a factory in Shengzhou, Zhejiang.

Inside Michael Yin’s factory in China. Photo credit Michael Yin.

“We have worked together for 17 years and will be longer. It is mutual trust and professionalism that sustain our cooperation and condense it to deeper friendship,” Yin said in a recent interview. Orders from Shop4Ties account for 30 percent of Yin’s volume, with an average order size of 100. He also sells company ties to such American corporations such as Citibank, Chase Bank and American Airlines.

Workers make ties at Michael Yin’s factory in China. Photo credit Michael Yin.

Shop4Ties’ revenue in 2017 reached $1.15 million, up 30 percent from 2016, according to Galvez. “I am still looking for 30 to 40 percent growth this year, and will hire one more person to our current team of three employees and three graphic designers,” she said.

Things haven’t always gone that well. It took some time for father and daughter to overcome generational differences and work smoothly together after she joined the business in 2011.

But they eventually proceeded to expand the business to scarves, pocket squares, ascots, and Hawaiian shirts.

Today around 50 percent to 60 percent of the orders are ties and bowties, 30 percent are scarves for women, and 10 percent to 15 percent are Hawaiin shirts that are becoming more popular for conferences, trade shows, and casual Fridays, Galvez said.

One third of the business comes from sports teams and various departments of schools and universities including Stanford, Yale, Harvard, the University of Chicago and Northwestern.

Sometimes the company is required to fill out licensing applications that ask about the suppliers’ labor standards. “While designing ties for the University of Michigan rugby team, we had to go through the licensing application that took about a week,” Galvez said.

Other clients include non-profits Clinton Foundation and YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, transportation companies that require uniforms, and individual artists.

A company called Through Jimmy’s Eyes, set up by Peg Reagan, mother of 24-year-old van Gogh-inspired artist Jimmy Reagan, to sell and publicize his paintings, is on Galvez’s list of long-standing clients.

Reagan said she has worked with Shop4Ties since the days of Arnie Kapp, and still places all her orders depicting Jimmy’s art pieces with Galvez. She said Shop4Ties helps translate sensual and sumptuous colors from the paintings onto silky scarves with good quality.

Another client, Russell Hampton, a family-run business based in Kansas that creates promotional products for Evanston-based Rotary International, has worked with Shop4Ties since the early days of the business.

Russell Hampton’s President Joe Beveridge, son-in-law of the founder, said, “We have been business partners and friends for 15 years, and appreciate the consistent quality and professionalism through the cooperation.”

To obtain the low cost and good quality of Yin’s supplies, Galvez said, she must accept the risk of occasional factory shutdowns due to pollution, and anticipate the annual closing during the Chinese New Year.

“I need to inform the clients in advance, but still unavoidably lose 1 percent of orders each year due to the long turnaround time of four weeks, even with the assistance of secondary and tertiary suppliers,” Galvez explained.

Photo at top: Inside the corporate office of Shop4Ties on West Diversey Avenue. Feb. 25, 2018. (Charlene Zhang/MEDILL)