By Rachel Bukowitz
Nisha Blackwell is a self-taught seamstress and founder of Knotzland, a company dedicated to sourcing and rescuing high quality materials and repurposing them into unique, handcrafted bow ties. Born and raised in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Nisha now works with local women in the community by teaching them to sew and make bow ties for Knotzland. Nisha has created a business that supports people and the environment, all the while creating fabulous bowties!
What was your inspiration in starting Knotzland?
I love reuse and reclaiming. Essentially, I’m really passionate about using things that exist already to make things that we want to exist. I initially made a hair bow for friends daughter, and then one thing lead to another and now I’ve ended up in bowtie space.
Can you share a story or example of the impact that Knotzland has had?
There are so many stories, one of my favorite impact areas is working with local women in the seamstress industry. I train women [to make bow ties]. They come in and pick up their supplies and then do their pieces at their home and then they bring them back. The community of women is really special and has impact on the outside community.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced in founding and running Knotzland?
It’s challenging to always be thinking about what growth looks like. People want to scale fast, but I want to scale intentionally and ethically. The bowtie world doesn’t mean scaling fast.
How has investing in sustainability been good for your business?
It’s refreshing for people to see and hear how impactful it is to reuse things that already exist. There has been a huge education component involved. This is slow fashion; it’s not at your doorstep like Amazon Prime. I usually have to have that conversation with customers, explaining why slow fashion is good for the environment.
What is something you are working on now that you are proud of or excited about?
My most recent project was commissioned by City of Pittsburgh through Innovation and Performance (IMP) Inclusive Innovation Week. On the project I was proud to continue working with Darrell Kinsel, a local artist from BOOM Concepts, to make bow ties that were very direct and powerful. We got together and made bow ties with words on them like “Collaborate”, “Peace”, “Equity”, “Innovation”, and “Inclusion” The bowties were then purchased by the City for the ambassadors to wear during Inclusive Innovation Week.
I am proud to make a statement with a brand. Knotzland focuses not just on environmental aspects of the world, but also on social good.
What was it like to be chosen for Facebook’s Small Business council?
[Nisha was chosen to be in the 5th class of Facebook’s Small Business Council which is a private group that consists of 60 members from all types of different companies]
It was a crazy experience! I flew to the Facebook headquarters in San Francisco and had two days of intensive training on topics ranging from creating great content, to advertising, to actually using products. They provided us with a lot of Instagram insight on how to capture audiences and create effective content. Overall, they advised us on tools that help small businesses. Since small business owners usually do a little bit of everything, there is not as much time to learn some of these things like there is in a large business where they can hire a person to do one thing full-time. They answered a lot of our questions and offered us amazing networking opportunities.
Is there anything else you (Nisha) would like me to know, or have included in Repair the World’s blog?
I would like to say that I really appreciate Repair the World. Repair the World provides a platform and space for social justice. Also, Fellows have been customers of Knotzland! Zack [Block, Repair the World Pittsburgh’s Executive Director] and the Fellows have been really supportive of Knotzland.