Find dad the perfect tie at Well Done Goods
Handmade tie company Cyberoptix has expanded to an Eastern Market shop. Designs range from cats to Detroit bus lines
Fred Shorb will admit, he was “not a big fan” of his daughter majoring in art.
“As a doting father, I was like, ‘You know, you should study your math,’ ” he said, laughing. “The idea of her pursuing art was a little scary to me, but she proved me wrong.”
Shorb is now the proud owner of an eclectic tie collection designed by his daughter, Bethany Shorb, who started the Detroit-based Cyberoptix Tie Lab in 2006. The online retailer has since sold more than 1 million hand-printed ties worldwide. In November, Shorb expanded to the boutique shop Well Done Goods by Cyberoptix in Eastern Market, offering Michigan-made products as well as her T-shirts, hats, scarves and, of course, funky patterned ties.
The pink “meat grinder” tie, with pigs falling into a grinder, is Fred Shorb’s favorite.
“I’ve got a pretty good assortment of them. Father’s Day is coming — I think I’ll be getting a new one,” he joked on a call from Sun City Center, Florida, where he lives.
Bethany Shorb, 41, hinted her father will, indeed, receive a tie. She just has to decide which one.
“Father’s Day is our mini-Christmas,” she said. “Then the week after Father’s Day continues because everybody forgets. Poor dad gets kind of screwed. We always have the ‘Oops Father’s Day Week.’ ”
Customers will find something for all tie tastes. Meandering through the 800-square-foot shop, Shorb points to one of her favorites — a silver tie with brain waves indicating sleep cycles.
“This is a retro reflective ink,” said Shorb, explaining it’s used on athletic gear that flashes under headlights. “It’s really fun to use that kind of specialty process on something it’s not usually used on.”
Other science-themed ties feature the periodic table, atoms and constellations. Ranging $36 to $45, they’re sold in 450 museums, including the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and Library of Congress.
“Pretty much every living and recently passed Apollo astronaut has some of our ties. I’ve gotten thank-you notes from Neil Armstrong,” she said, showing off a signed picture from astronaut Thomas Stafford. “He’s got an Apollo cockpit design.”
Detroiters gravitate to ties of city bus routes and blueprints Shorb restored of Michigan Central Station and Cass Technical High School. As she puts it, her friend was “doing some self-guided tours” in the now-demolished school when she stumbled on the blueprints.
“They were, like, sitting in water, and they would have been blown up and lost forever,” she said.
Since November, Shorb’s team has printed her designs on T-shirts, hoodies, towels and aprons, even though Shorb vowed to only print on ties, bowties and pocket squares.
“I got a little itchy after doing the same thing for 10 years,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting to expand the product line.”
Before there was Etsy
Growing up in Connecticut, Shorb liked to “make something from nothing,” her father said.
“She would always pull things out of the trash and say, ‘I could make something with that,’ ” Fred Shorb recalled. “From that point on, we always knew she had artistic tendencies, so we enrolled her in some art classes.”
After attending Boston University, Shorb got a graduate degree in sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art.
The tie business was “completely accidental,” she said.
A friend had taught her how to screen print in her kitchen. While working in costume design, Shorb decided to print on the edge of a tie. It looked cool, so she threw up a website and added a PayPal option.
“I was like, ‘Hey, if you want one, I can make you one.’ It went like that,” she said, snapping her fingers tattooed with the letters N-E-C-K T-I-E-S. “I quit all my jobs a year later, and now we’ve got over 20 people working here.”
The parent company name, Cyberoptix, is a play on “fiber optix.” Shorb designed light-up club clothes in the ’90s and admitted Cyberoptix has nothing to do with her current company, but she can’t change it at this point.
“It makes no sense,” she laughed. “I kind of hate it, but it is what it is.”
She attributes her success to being an early adopter of e-commerce.
“We predated Etsy,” said Shorb, whose Etsy store has more than 46,600 “favorite shop” likes.
She’s hopeful her beat-pumping store, which is decorated with deer heads donning ties and offers classes such as taxidermy and perfumery, will attract people seeking a shopping experience they can’t get online.
Shorb didn’t plan to buy the space below the production space she’s owned on Gratiot for 14 years, but when it became available, she didn’t want it to go to someone else.
“I still think we’re a little early to be doing retail here in Detroit,” she said, “but you gotta get your foot in the door now when you can still afford to do it.”
While she added it might be challenging to encourage Eastern Market shoppers “to cross the great wall of Gratiot,” store manager Amber Krumm said new restaurants and shops, such as Gather, Trinosophes and Boro Resale, are attracting visitors who spend afternoons on the street.
“They start at the coffee shop, and then there’s literally something to do every 2 feet,” said Krumm, 30, of Detroit. “You have a resale shop, a record store, a gallery, a gift shop and you haven’t gotten off the block yet.”
From cat ties to weddings
Cyberoptix offers over 450 prints and 74 colors. Sizes range from big and tall to baby. Securing a hot pink tie on Rozwell, the studio cat nicknamed “The Boss,” Shorb shows the ties even fit around pet collars. A draw is the customizable option for weddings.
Melinda Larsen of Eureka, California, bought her first Cyberoptix tie on Etsy for her father in 2011.
“My dad doesn’t like to wear ties, but a promotion at his job meant that he’d have to be in an office, in a tie, a couple days out of the month,” said Larsen, whose father is a California Highway Patrol truck inspector. “I got him the stick shift tie, and it was literally the first tie he’s ever liked.”
Shorb said the water-based process slows production, but ensures better quality compared to oil-based screen printing shops.
“If you see a T-shirt that cracks over time, that’s the oil-based ink,” she explained. “Water-based really merges more with the fabric, and it’s not going to crack like that.”
Shoppers will find yellow tees with red coney dog prints, yet Shorb stressed Well Done Goods is “not a tourist T-shirt shop.”
“We want to have more of the feeling of Detroit than slapping it on there,” she said.
Many designs also have historical significance. Shorb points to a tie with a Eastern Market map — the print came from a 1960s city survey.
Next, she’d like to incorporate Woodward Avenue or old Tiger Stadium.
Then again, the design may be along the lines of the kitty with blacklight reactive laser eyes.
“A lot about the world is really dark and not good right now,” Shorb said. “You come in here, and at least you get a laugh.”
Well Done Goods by Cyberoptix
1440 Gratiot, Detroit
Tuesday to Friday 11-7 p.m., Saturday 10-5 p.m.; Sunday 11-5 p.m.; closed Monday