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October 30, 2016 13 min read 1 Comment

How did a circuit board tie create a global brand?

A line up of ties made from mother boards of varying colours. Blue on the far right, red next, then green, lastly black.

After 28 months of introducing thousands of people to our line ofcircuit board ties andjewelrythrough markets and art festivals, I’ve gotten pretty good at telling the story. It’s only recently that I realized I’ve been telling it all wrong!

I’ve always said that “everything that you see with TechWears was a big happy accident.” and while it’s true that I never anticipated starting a circuit board tie company, after recently creating a new circuit board tie design, I now see that the whole process has been rather intentional. The ties I’ve been making and selling for the last two years have been wonderful, cutting-edge technology if you will.

I am very proud of each and every circuit board tie I have sold, but the new design is a game changer! I am so excited to finally introduce the TechWerars Circuit Board Tie 2.0 to the World.

The prgression of TechWears Circuit Board Ties over time. Models wearing each version of the tie.

It took many (many) failed prototypes and lots of curse words to create a circuit board tie that is ready for Hollywood.

To understand where it is that we are going, we must first understand where we have been.

In an effort to fully explain one of the most frequently asked questions (How did you come up with the idea?) I would like to start this story at the beginning.

Why did I create the world’s first necktie made from recycled circuit boards?

The very first circuit board tie I made was a response to a wardrobe crisis.

I knew that I simply had to have a circuit board tie, so like all essential needs, I turned to Google to point me in the right direction. To my utter disappointment, all that I could find was a silk tie with a circuit board pattern printed on it.

I couldn't believe it.

If you are going to rock a tie as nerdy as circuit boards why would you only go halfway with silk?

I needed a necktie made with real circuit boards and it didn’t exist. So I did what any unreasonable person would do, and I made one myself!

I used a Dremel to cut, drill, and chain together some attractive circuit boards I had been holding on to for years. It was a dusty and hazardous mess creating it, but well worth it in the end.

It didn’t matter that it hung a little crooked or had imperfections, I had created my very own circuit board tie to wear at work.

  Drew smiling in his Blue Star Recycling work shirt, wearing the very first Real Circuit board Tie ever created.

September 21st, 2012 [Photo Credit: Colleen Burke]

The World’s First Circuit Board Tie was Impulsively Sold in an Art Show!

I just loved wearing the circuit board tie to work.

As Director of Business Development for a nonprofit electronics recycler, it was great for breaking the ice at networking events and for about a year I enjoyed wearing the tie at special events and public relations opportunities, like being interviewed on TV.

When I wasn’t wearing it, it hung on the wall next to my desk. It just made me happy to have it around. I felt good about wearing something that I had created myself.

Along came a suggestion from a friend and mentor who told me I should put the circuit board tie into an upcoming steampunk art show.

I resisted this suggestion.

I didn’t consider the tie to be art, it was just an important part of my wardrobe.

I told her that I would never consider selling it, it was simply too valuable in my job as a conversation starter. She explained to me that I could show it at the art show and not sell it. “It will be good publicity for the company,” she said.

Okay fine, that was a good enough reason as I was very passionate about the good work my company was doing to employ folks with developmental disabilities through electronics recycling. Anything I could do to attract more attention and get more people interested in the business was a good thing.

  The first Real Circuit Board Tie hanging in the art show. A sign naming Drew Johnson with Blue Star Recyclers is beside the tie. Priced NOT FOR SALE.

October 9th, 2014 [This picture is one of my first Instagram posts so I used a little too much filter LOL]

So there it was!

I was now an “artist” with a piece on display in an art gallery.

I eagerly awaited the show to conclude so that I could pick up my tie and put it back where it belongs, by my desk or around my neck.

Well, when I went to go pick it up, the curator of the show mentioned that someone had been very fond of it and would probably buy it if I would sell it.

He mentioned a price high enough that my position about not selling the tie flipped from NO to YES like a light switch. I said, “YES, call him and sell it!”

It wasn’t like a million dollars or anything, but I had never considered putting a value on something I had crafted with my own hands from parts that I had collected for free.

Were my time and craftsmanship really worth money?

Little did I know what was to come…

After Selling the First Circuit Board Tie, I Had to Make Another One.

Selling this circuit board tie had left a void in my apparel options that could only be replaced by creating a new one.

Well, unsurprisingly, the creation of the new tie went a little easier the second time, some would argue that the tie came out even better!

I liked the tie and it still evoked the same type of conversation starting and ice breaking critical to my job, but I began to be troubled that the tie hung a little crooked, but I’ll let you be the judge…

The second Real Circuit Board tie with wavy edges on both sides of the circuit board squares, that make up the necktie

For some time, all was well in the World. The circuit board tie made me feel like the king of e-waste when I wore it.

Drew laying in a pile of discarded computers and televisions looking cool and relaxed wearing the circuit board tie. A visual representation of being the King of E-Waste.

July 2014 [Photo Credit: Christian Murdock]

When you leave your great job to start a circuit board tie company.

When I decided to leave my cushy job and start a business, I still had no idea that my world would eventually become completely consumed with creating circuit board ties and jewelryfrom recycled electronics. 

I did, however, recognize that I wanted to improve the design and get the tie to hang straight.

How could I walk into a big-time CEO’s office and command respect with a circuit board tie that was crooked?

Something must be done!

So went to the drawing board to build a better, straighter, recycled circuit board tie.

Meanwhile, I expanded my range of wearable, recycled, circuit board art and showed off my jewelry line at farm and art markets in the Colorado Springs area.

  Drew smiling behind his booth at an outdoor venue. He has display cases in front of him filled with pendents, rings, cufflinks, earings and cards. There are two shirts in the background with Circuit Board Ties on them. A banner hangs above that reads "Circuit Board Jewelry and Art"

June 2014 [Photo Credit: Larry Stebbins]

For circuit board tie # 3, I decided to spend as much time as necessary to cut the lines exactly straight.

As I remember it, I spent about 8 hours going over the same lines with a razor blade until I was all the way through the circuit board.

In the end, my hands hurt, but it seemed like I had created a circuit board tie that would hang straight, plus I had not created a lot of toxic dust in the process!

This was progress in the right direction!

A much straighter edged Circuit Board Tie is displayed on a white background.

Well, the circuit board tie was straighter than any previous attempts, but there were other issues. Mainly, the rings joining the sections were uneven so the tie would get stuck on itself and come apart.

Ugh! Back to the drawing board.

I knew I needed help to create the circuit board tie that I could see in my mind but didn’t know how to make it.

All along this journey, I have benefited from having no shame in calling people I know and asking questions. Most people are generally of good nature and will help if they can or else point you in the right direction.

I thought of a buddy from college that I knew to be a talented mechanical engineer.

I wondered if perhaps there was a laser or something that could cut these circuit boards straight, I knew my buddy Griebs would know.

Little did I know that calling Joe with Mind Rocket LLC was the beginning of an exciting trajectory shift for my products and career.

  Drew and Joe smiling at the Sleep Shepard booth at CES 2015 in Las Vegas

Drew and Joe at the Sleep Shepard booth at CES 2015 in Las Vegas [Check outsleepshepherd.com if you have trouble sleeping]

So it turns out that the most practical type of laser (CO2) can’t cut all the way through a circuit board, due largely to the fact that it won’t pierce metal, but it can engrave it!

It turns out that most circuit boards have a thin grounding layer of copper underneath the surface that is beautifully exposed after the laser burns off the coating.

This realization, combined with the fact that for the first time I had a giant stack of identical circuit boards opened up a world of possibilities.

Black Circuit board ties laser engraved to expose their copper under colour in 5 different patterns.

These particular recycled circuit boards had been given to me by a local company.

They were a beautiful glossy black, but most people were not used to seeing black circuit boards. Hitting them with the laser added a lot of depth and created a dramatic eye-catching effect.

I thought they were pure awesomeness and since I had also learned to cut them straight I thought I should protect the idea by seeking a circuit board tie patent.

Image of the US Department of Patents seal

Apart from being worried that someone might come along and start making circuit board ties out of new circuit boards, crushing my efforts to use 100% recycled materials, I knew that I had to do some strong marketing to get them out into the world.

After lots of brainstorming and planning, I decided that what I really needed was a portable upcycling factory. Fully stocked, with a laser and all the equipment I could possibly need to make the finest circuit board ties and jewelry the World has ever seen I couldn't go wrong.

So, I launched theTiny TechWears Factory Project on Kickstarter September 30th 2016.

A mock up of what the Tiny Techwears Factory would look like. A trailer covered in circuit board shingles, with fold out windows similar to a food truck, solar pannels on the roof, tables out front displaying product.

Boy did I learn a lot during the Kickstarter.

I seriously wish I had been better about blogging during that time because it was a very exciting campaign.

I had created a series oflaser engraved circuit board ties that were reversible and adjustable in length.

You could wear the black side for your formal event, or the laser engraved side for a more fun and funky look.

I thought surely I was about to take the world by storm!

Black Circuit board ties laser engraved to expose their copper under colour in a circle pattern

Pledging for a Circuit Board Tie on the Kickstarter campaign came with two promises.

You would receive your circuit board tie by Christmas, and you got to help me achieve my dream.

Well, both of those promises were fulfilled.

However, during the campaign, I became inspired to think beyond the "Tiny Factory" and invested big in advertising on social media.

The campaign was successfully funded but at the end of the day but I had spent any potential profits on marketing and production expenses.

The only tangible asset I had after the campaign was a thermal printer for shipping labels.

But let me tell you something...

That thermal shipping label printer is incredible!

But the most amazing thing about the Kickstarter was the obvious indication from folks around the world who thought I was on to something.

After the Kickstarter, I knew Circuit Board Ties had not yet had their fair chance in the world.

When 2016 came around I went back to work on my vision.

This time, instead of trying to figure out how I could make thousands of ties, I simply focused on making the types of circuit board ties that I wanted to create.

Spending all day creating just one beautiful luxury circuit board tie brought me great joy through the process.

People kept buying these unique, one of a kind, ties. So, I just kept making them!

I remain so very thankful for the support and the fact that people are willing to buy my work.

I signed up for another Summer of non-stop markets and festivals to show my circuit board ties and jewelry to communities around Colorado.

Models wearing an array of Circuit board ties in Black, Purple, Red, Yellow, and Green.

That Moment When a New Idea is Born and the Future of Circuit Board Ties Unfolds in Your Mind.

Drew at an out door market smiliing while standing his his TechWears Booth. The sign now reads "Circuit Board Jewlery and Hops" The "Hops" portion of the sign is wrote in sharpie on cardboard and clipped to the sign in a makeshift type way.

Because Circuit Board Jewelry and Hops go together so well, right?

It was April 2016 and my Cousin was visiting from Fort Collins, Colorado.

We had gone into business together to grow organic hops forLocal Relic Brewing in Colorado Springs and we were preparing the plants for the growing season.

We got to talking about the circuit board tie and all the different methods I had tried while refining the tie. I wanted to make it seamless and eliminate the jingle of the rings. I had tried tape, wire, string, and had even tried just keeping the tie in one piece. I was quick to realize that was a bad idea. When I sat down and the tie jabbed me in the throat.

I knew that I wanted to create circuit board ties that will last for a lifetime.

I wanted to produce ties that would help people get an edge in their careers while having some fun with the dress code.

I wanted to make ties that could pass the “kid test” and not break under pressure.

I wanted to build circuit board ties of substance that didn’t feel cheap and flimsy.

I wanted TechWears ties to be seen as a lasting value that could be donated or re-gifted when they are no longer wanted.

I wanted to make a circuit board tie from recycled electronics that you could walk into any boardroom, any job interview, any conference or meeting and give a presentation in confidence that you look dang snazzy in your techie tie.

As my cousin and I talked, an idea emerged.

My Cousin being an environmental engineer gets pretty down and nerdy when it comes to technology and fabrication.

What if we created a piece to attach to each tie that joins the sections together?

What if we used a 3D printer to do this?

What if instead of being circuit boards on both sides, it’s a funky look on the back side made with science?


What if and why not?

Let’s do this!

Little did I know that it would take 6 MONTHS of “proto-tieing” to perfect a new Circuit Board Tie design.

Sure, it would have taken a mechanical engineer maybe 6 days to do what took me 6 months.

I felt like I needed to have control of the prototyping process, that way I could make a tie, then wear it to see how it functioned.

TechWears being a one-person operation, and not having any engineers who owed me any favors, I dug deep and began to study computer-aided design.

Getting these new parts drawn in CAD was painful at first but after a few trial and error runs, I discovered I had a real knack for it!

Learning the ropes was sailing along pretty quick and managed to be 3D printing the first ones in no time.

I was fascinated by the available 3D printing materials out there.

Through Instagram, I found an amazing company called ReFil that makes 100% recycled content 3D printing filaments in the Netherlands.

I started with a 100% Recycled ABS made from car dashboards and sampled a 100% recycled PET made from soda bottles.

Oh man, I was in love with these products.

Check out the amazing 3D print filaments offered byhttp://www.re-filament.com/

Image of the back of the tie in green and black 3D printed  filament aquired by re-filament

Unfortunately, without owning a 3D printer, there was no way to make the number of ties I needed to make.

So, I had to move on to another production method.

I do want the world to know that part of the reason it took so long to develop this new design is that I have a personal grudge against plastic.

I just hate how plastic pollution has trashed the planet and the reality is, plastic recycling will never be enough to solve the problem.

We need to stop consuming one-time use products and get back to the old school way of reusing durable containers.

For now, though, it is important that TechWears moves forward while actively seeking a long-term solution for production of these parts that is sustainable and has a net positive impact on the environment.

This is not an easy task! But I am encouraged by some of the work being done by huge companies likeAdidas to use plastic cleaned from the ocean for manufacturing shoes.

I fully support corporate goliaths using their research and development dollars to create products that are more sustainable so that startups like TechWears have access to these materials from ground zero! There is no doubt about consumer preference at this point.



Check out the TechWears Circuit Board Tie 2.0

Hopefully, after reading all of this, you can understand why I’m making a big deal about the upgraded model of circuit board tie.

From the users perspective it is a huge improvement and here's why:

  • Ring-less Design (Enjoy a circuit board tie that doesn't jingle all the way to the meeting.)
  • Seamless Continuity (Enjoy a circuit board tie that appears to be in one piece, yet flexes when you need it to.)
  • Adjustable Strap (Just like that bow tie you had to rent with a wedding tux, the circuit board tie only needs to be adjusted once and it will rest comfortably under your collar)
  • Available in 3 lengths (Instead of one-size-fits-all)
  • One Sided (Features recycled circuit boards on the front side only)

But wait, I have the V1 circuit board tie. Is there a way you can upgrade the tie I have already?

Well, I am just so glad you asked! The answer is absolutely YES!

Although I do not yet have a timeline for providing this service, I believe that all manufacturers should be responsible for their products from cradle to grave. I would be delighted to upgrade your existing tie I just need to know how many people are interested and figure out how much it is going to cost for each tie. Please reach out to let me know this is something you wish to be contacted about.

So Circuit Board Ties are really a thing then?

If you’ve read this entire blog and don’t understand the passion and purpose driving this product line and this company then I have failed you.

As I mentioned at the beginning I always thought of TechWears as one big happy accident.

What I have come to realize the last couple of months is that at some point I unknowingly began to act very intentionally in creating a path for TechWears to create jobs and impact the world in a much more substantive way.

Acircuit board tie is a symbol.

What is that symbol capable of (other than helping people dress sharp)?

The future of TechWears is driven by the desire to discover the unknown and be a positive force in STEM education and for producer responsibility in manufacturing.

How far we are able to go depends largely on you.

Thank you for supporting the most upcycled tech startup of the 21st century and spreading the word so we can #UpcycleAllTheTech!

Sincerely, Drew

Drew Johnson

Founder and Chief Executive Upcycler

TechWears Ltd.

1 Response

Benjamin David Redmond
Benjamin David Redmond

March 05, 2020


I really enjoyed reading your story of the tech tie. I actually know a guy in Seattle that has been making jewelry out of computer parts for decades (Twisted Resistor) so that’s cool. BUT.. I also invented a tie in 2016 or should I say a modification to ties that has led to many iterations of something like my first but alas I had been talking myself out of so many steps I could have taken to bring them to market.

I’m inspired and a bit ashamed that I haven’t taken the leap you did.. yet. But I will… now if only I could come up with a tie name as perfect as techtie and Techwears for mine… Keep up the good work brother.

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