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Eyes on the ties

It’s a family affair for this cool vintage tie business — and it’s really starting to turn heads, writes Larissa Nolan

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Be Brave owner Ieva Sungailaite.

Be Brave owner Ieva Sungailaite.

Larissa wearing one of the fabulous neckties

Larissa wearing one of the fabulous neckties

Ieva Sungailaite

Ieva Sungailaite

Ieva Sungailaite

Ieva Sungailaite

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Be Brave owner Ieva Sungailaite.

I got a style craving recently – I wanted a necktie — not for a man but for a woman —and after a long search, I finally found a company called Be Brave which specialised in just that — beautiful, unique, colourful, vintage men’s ties, lovingly remade by hand into an entirely new accessory with subtle sex appeal.

The company, based in a house in Celbridge, Co Kildare is the creation of Ieva Sungailaite, 38, a Lithuanian artist who moved to Ireland in 2005 and who is known as the Queen of Ties.

Ieva has invented a whole new fashion in the form of avant-garde neckwear. Her mother Renata, brother Juozas, sister-in-law Brigita and even her son, Kajus, 13, is involved in the venture.

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Larissa wearing one of the fabulous neckties

Larissa wearing one of the fabulous neckties

Larissa wearing one of the fabulous neckties

Having gained a degree in textile design from the National College of Art and Design, she came up with the tie idea, which she believes is a first for women.

“I like to make small things. I started off with jewellery, beads and gems, and started selling it at markets. I would bring heavy suitcases into Dublin city centre – I made a shelf and carried it on the Luas.

“I was looking for new ideas. I suggested a tie for a lady,” says Ieva. “I was thinking of Coco Chanel, and how she adopted men’s fashion to women’s fashion. My grandmother Irma, in Lithuania was on her own and it became a hobby for her. She would make ties and we were wearing them and giving them as gifts.”

She began selling them at Ha’penny Market in Dublin. It took off and in time, she was travelling to markets and fairs in Ireland and across Europe. “The ties were controversial. Some people couldn’t understand. They were laughing at them. They’d ask: ‘What are they?!’ But others loved them. People either laughed or loved. But I totally believed it was a unique product. It’s art.

“In Ireland, there can be a surprised reaction; in France, it’s like: ‘Wow’. For ladies, we decorated them with hand-rolled roses. We noticed Chinese men loved them; they insisted on the roses. French men liked the shorter ties. We saw the potential for men. The ties became unisex.

“It took me years to adapt them to different styles and lengths, and to figure out the right price. You do something so niche – how do you compare price-wise?” They are affordable at approximately €40-60, with pieces featuring vintage jewellery costing a little more.

It’s environmentally-friendly, handmade, upcycled fashion. Each tie is an individual piece, repurposed and embellished from ties she finds in treasure hunts at markets or in vintage shops, or sometimes from donations of ties or costume jewellery from those who love her work. One woman donated her late husband’s luxury tie collection. “I love the history behind each tie we make, and how many stories are in there,” says Ieva.

“Textile design is the basis of fashion; in college I learned how to create patterns and I did a colour theory course, but I think the creative instinct is in my blood. My mother has an inner feeling about colour, and I come from line of creative people.” Both her mother and grandmother are theatre actresses, her father Arturas was a musician and both great-grandparents were also artists. Their stories are told on the Be Brave website.

The company’s aviation-themed logo is reminiscent of superwoman. “I created the logo. It symbolises equality and freedom,” explains Ieva. She lives the life of an independent woman with her son in Celbridge and credits her mother as key support when times got tough. “My mother helped me all the time. When I studied in NCAD, my son was only four, he wasn’t even in school. I was up drawing sometimes at 3am, until I got chilblains on my fingers. When I look back, I don’t know how I managed it. I remember saying to my mother: We will remember this time, when we are in a better one.”

When my necktie arrived in a dainty, recycled box, with a hand-written, personal note from the designer, Ieva, informing that the tie was made by her grandmother Irma, who is part of the family business, I knew I had a unique piece of art around my neck.

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