We can’t tell you how many Hollywood stars we’ve spotted rocking sharp bow ties in recent months. If you ask New York City-based designer Marquis Ellison, no man should be without one in his closet.
“Bow ties are timeless pieces. They’ve been around forever, whether it’s a black tie-formal affair or something for everyday use. Men don’t have any accessories to accessorize our wardrobe, so a bow tie is perfect for someone who wants to stand out or who dares to be different,” Ellison tells BET.com.
He’s the creator of Marquis Rashoid, a line of handcrafted men’s bow ties and pocket squares, but his eye-catching designs aren’t merely just for show. As he puts it, he’s promoting fashion with the benefit of raising awareness for Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), something that's especially poignant this month as May is National Digestive Disease Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 1-1.3 million Americans are affected by inflammatory bowel disease. Ellison was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2009.
Crohn’s disease causes painful inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. There is no cure for the disease, but medication can help control symptoms and even provide long-term remission in some.
“When I was first diagnosed in 2009, we were going through multiple tests. I had every test you could think of. X-rays, ultrasounds...I had numerous colonoscopies already, I had endoscopies, where they go through your throat with a tube,” he says. It took a battery of more tests, including two blood transfusions, before a doctor arrived at a conclusive diagnosis of Crohn’s disease and began treatment. For Ellison, it’s a monthly injection of medication and yearly colonoscopies to monitor his health.
“Throughout the whole time that I was going through the symptoms — the rapid weight loss and not being able to eat and feeling so fatigued — there were moments that I was weak, but my faith in God, my wife, friends and family kept me uplifted, and I knew that God wouldn’t put any more on me than I could bear. That really was a big component of me looking at it with a positive outlook," he says. "I always say, ‘I have Crohn’s disease, but it don’t have me.’”
“Once I was diagnosed, I really owned it and wanted to do something to help promote awareness for it,” he says of his journey. On May 1, he celebrated the one-year anniversary of Marquis Rashoid, for which he donates a portion of his sales to charity. “Once I started my business, I wanted a portion of the proceeds to be donated to Crohn’s disease and breast cancer awareness [foundations], two causes that are dear to me. Crohn’s disease, because I have it, and breast cancer, because my aunt died from breast cancer.”
Ellison studied fashion merchandising at Florida State University, and it was there that he first started experimenting with bow ties after some encouragement from his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother. “I’ve always been a fashionable guy, and I love bow ties. I always wanted to start my own business, and the entrepreneurial spirit had always been with me since my Florida State days,” he says. After his wife’s employer relocated her to New York City in September 2013, he sought out to achieve these dreams in the Big Apple.
Having seven years of retail management experience but no sewing skills lead Ellison to take up sewing classes at a small studio in Brooklyn, where he learned the ins-and-outs needed to create a truly handcrafted product that would showcase his design aesthetic. “I like fun prints and patterns that will stand out,” he says. “I charge my mom with that, because ever since I was a kid she had me in pinks and blues and all these vibrant colors, and it stuck with me. If you look at my collection, I have a lot of pieces that are definitely established for the fashionable individual. However, I do have some more conservative pieces that people will like, too.”
In the past year, he’s already seeing the business expand, having hosted two fashion shows, including a collaboration with Clavons Wear during New York Fashion Week. He’s currently exploring his options for manufacturers locally to help produce his pieces on a larger scale.
For now, he’s doing what he can to draw more attention to the cause. “What I want people to know about Crohn’s disease is that it’s often known as the invisible disease, because you can’t really look at a person and tell they have Crohn’s disease. There is no cure for this. However, the more we bring it to the light and make people aware that this disease is alive, it’s out there, we can hopefully move to find a cure.”
He adds optimistically, “It’s been an eventful year. This year, my new motto is 'Marquis Rashoid: high fashion, higher purpose.'”
To see the complete Marquis Rashoid collection, visit MarquisRashoid.com.
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(Photo: Marquis Rashoid)