Nino Chambers has worked hard to perfect his craft.
Last year, the Mississippi-born teen started his own business, handcrafting bow ties and bow tie key chains he now sells on a website that he created and launched in August. Since he developed the idea, Chambers has spent countless hours selecting the perfect fabrics and designing the perfect styles for the ties, which he then creates by hand in his shop each day.
Chambers and his business may not sound that unusual – until you realize he is a 17-year-old high school junior and his “shop” is his chair at his mother’s sewing machine in their home in West Columbia.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” Chambers said. “I used to write business plans for fun when I was a kid.”
Chambers’ time with needle and thread didn’t start with a grand plan to launch a business, though.
“When I was in eighth grade my mom bought a sewing machine for my dad to play around with and make his own bow ties and it didn’t work correctly so they decided not to use it. That’s when I started playing around on it,” Chambers said. “The first thing I made was a pair of boxers, but then I started making bow ties for myself and for my friends and family.”
Then, last year, through his involvement in the DECA student business club at Brookland-Cayce High School, Chambers had the opportunity to create a business plan for what could potentially be a real business and try to convince others to invest in it.
The end result of something that started with that extracurricular school assignment was the development of what is now known as The Chamber – a full-fledged business complete with an online shop (www.thechamber.company), which went live in August.
“It is quite unusual to see a high school junior so aware of how the business world works and navigating through it with ease,” said MarySusan Williamson, Brookland-Cayce business and marketing teacher and DECA adviser. “As DECA adviser I do see other students with their own businesses, but they have certainly not taken their business to the next level like Nino.
“The attention to detail he provides with hand-sewing each piece with care, packaging each piece himself ... is incredible.”
Last February, Chambers took the plan to state DECA competition in Charleston, where he placed fourth and qualified to compete at the International Career Development Conference in Orlando. Though he didn’t place in that competition, Chambers is perfecting a plan for growing The Chamber and hopes to be able to compete at the ICDC again this year in Nashville, Tenn.
“I’m only in high school but I feel pretty good with what I’ve done so far,” said Chambers, who checks the metrics on his website daily. “I think a lot of people are shocked to find out that I’m doing this much with the business because I’m also really involved in school.”
Chambers has worked to streamline his process to cut down production time.
“The first ones I made are really rough. They didn’t have the right shape or the right fabric and it was just a struggle. I wasn’t proud of them but it’s gotten better,” Chambers said. “It used to take an hour and a half to sew one but now I can make one in about 15 minutes.”
Chambers also has revised the style of the ties, adding buttons and multiple buttonholes to make them adjustable, and has added a second product – bow tie key chains – to his product line.
“The key chains actually came about as an accident,” Chambers said. “I had some leftover fabric and I was like, ‘What can I make with that?’ I haven’t found anyone else that sells key chains like these and they are really perfect for high school kids, because we’ve all started driving and because the key chains are something we can afford.”
Chambers said he has so far sold 77 keychains, priced at $10 and $12; and 29 bowties, which are $25.
Most afternoons after school, the young student body vice president can be found working a part-time job at West Columbia-based veterinary clinic, Van Crest Animal Hospital, which is owned and operated by his parents, Nick and Candra Chambers – themselves entrepreneurs. Interestingly, the money Chambers makes there isn’t spent in typical teenage fashion. Instead, it is reinvested into his business. And a paycheck isn’t all he’s taking away from his experience in the clinic.
“The biggest way they have inspired me is with their work ethic,” Chambers said of his parents. “If there is one thing my parents are doing it’s working. Whether it’s for our church or the clinic or anything else, I have always seen them give their best to everything, and that is something I try to remember every day.”
Though things can change, interestingly enough, Chambers’ career plans at this point don’t include earning an MBA and launching international businesses.
“My plan is to keep The Chamber open and even eventually open a (physical) store,” Chambers said, “but I’m looking at architecture right now for my career.”
The art of the bow tie
How Brookland-Cayce High School junior Nino Chambers makes bow ties for his business, The Chamber:
1. Finds fabric from fabric stores.
2. Traces bow tie pattern on fabric.
3. Sews along the line.
4. Turns the tie inside out.
5. Irons the tie flat.
6. Sews the edges closed.
7. On one end, adds button holes for adjustability, and on the other, sews on a wood button.
8. Puts together box, packages the bow tie, takes to post offfice to mail to customer.