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Teflon Ensures That What You See Is Just the Design

Innovation: Arden Cravats Inc. markets products that can escape just about any stain.


RAMSEUR, N.C. — Steve Davis looped several silk neckties over his shirt sleeve and began pouring steaming hot coffee over the entire lot.

Instead of ruining the fine Italian cloth, the liquid simply beaded up and rolled off.

"The ultimate test is coffee on a yellow tie," said Davis, president of Arden Cravats Inc., the nation's only maker of Teflon-treated silk ties.

Sure enough, one of the ties featured an attractive golden design. Like the others, the light-colored tie was no worse for wear after the close encounter.

Davis does not pretend that his company's Teflon-treated neckties are foolproof, but so far they have held up under the kinds of conditions posed by a man on the go. And the company will stand behind that with a limited guarantee.

"We've tried salad dressing, tomato sauce, milk--even motor oil," Davis said in an interview at his company's North Carolina plant. "The important thing to know is that they are not stain proof but stain resistant."

The ties were introduced after some workers from DuPont, which makes Teflon, came to Davis and said they wore Arden Cravats ties but thought they could improve on them.

"They approached me with the idea and I liked it, so I decided to give it a try," Davis said, explaining that the Teflon treatment costs the company next to nothing.

Arden Cravats posted about $5 million in sales last year. It sells its handmade ties to 2,500 retailers in the United States and Canada. Most of them are independent men's shops such as Joe Sugar's of St. Pauls, near Fayetteville, N.C.

"It's my No. 1-selling tie," Sugar said. "Silk generally doesn't clean well, especially the lighter-colored yellows and reds.

"Here my customers can get a little sizzle and it saves them $30 when they spill coffee on it."

The coating doesn't change the texture of the ties, which retail for $30 to $40, about the same price as Arden Cravats' untreated ties. The Teflon-treated ties can be dry-cleaned just like any other fine garment.

The ties are designed by Davis and his wife, Lisa. Her father, Colon Wolfe, founded Arden Cravats, which now has 32 employees.

Davis is ready to answer when asked about the wisdom of producing a nearly indestructible product.

"I've been told we're cutting our nose off to spite our face by selling a tie you can't ruin," he said. "But these days people are so used to changing their ties. It's become a fashion focal point."

So far, the ties have lived up to their billing.

"We've been shipping the ties since April of 1996 and we haven't received a single return because of a mess," Davis said. "I won't say it won't happen, but it hasn't yet."

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