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After high school, Andrews, now 33, attended CVCC and worked various full time jobs before putting his education on hold for a few years in order to help his family.

In 2001, he completed an EMT class and managed to land a position with a private ambulance company in Charlottesville for six months, which led to him getting hired as a Firefighter/EMT at the Lynchburg Fire Department in the summer of 2003.

He’s been battling blazes ever since, taking time out to teach first aid/CPR courses, pursue his bachelor’s degree in education once again at CVCC and run a young entrepreneurs program.

After some of his business minded students challenged him to put his money where his mouth is, he came up with the idea for Twenty23.

“That way they won’t have excuses not to do their work, and I won’t have excuses not to do mine,” he says with a laugh. “The company officially launched in October. We had a little over $1,700 in sales during December alone. It’s been great.”

Here’s a quick question and answer session with Andrews:

Where did your passion for fashion come from?

“You can’t really tell based on this [fireman’s] uniform, but when I’m not in it, man, I’ll wear a bowtie; I wear neckties; I’m wearing bracelets, suspenders; I like wearing suits all the time. I love my shoes, too. I’m really into the Cole Haan [label]. So, fashion, style wise, I’ve been into that ever since I was a teeny weenie little guy.”

There’s nothing wrong with starting young.

“Absolutely. When I was a teenager, my first year of high school, when everybody else was still rockin’ [Air] Jordans and jeans, I’d come to school with slacks and dress shoes. I’d have a tie on. I’d be in English class with a tie on [laughs]. But I got best dressed in high school, my senior year. And then throughout high school I worked, like any other teenager. But I worked at Heironimus’ [Department Store]. I worked in the men’s department. So I’ve been around fabric and thread and design and all that type of stuff pretty much my whole life.”

Any designers, in particular, you admired around that time?

“You know, for a very long time, I was a big Ralph Lauren fan. I loved Polo, loved Tommy Hilfiger. And that was what was in, and I loved that stuff. Not only the quality of it, but the brand. The whole thing. When you see a Polo shirt, you knew it was more than a shirt with a pony on it. It was smart, sophisticated,. You felt like you wanted to be somebody. You felt like you were important. And that’s kind of what I wanted.

“So when I started transitioning and created this company, it was about building a brand. It’s not just giving somebody a bowtie and letting them wear it; it’s a lifestyle, a small piece of luxury. So that’s kind of been my motto ever since. It’s not geared towards a particular demographic. It’s for anybody who wants to feel important, to feel debonair.”

It sounds like bowties were a natural progression.

“It was. I was wearing bowties. I was buying bowties at Belk, at Macy’s, those types of places. And I wanted to be passionate about wanting to start a business and, believe it or not man, I was like, ‘I want to do something that I don’t already know how to do.’ It’s easy for me to go do a CPR class; I can do that any day. But I wanted to challenge myself, and I didn’t know how to sew. So, two years ago, my mom taught me how to sew.”

Did it come easy to you?

“Well, I started reading a lot. I’m a reader. So I was reading a lot about different techniques and different fabrics, patterns,
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all that type of stuff. You can go on YouTube, and you can see different videos, and that’s perfectly fine, but I did a lot of thinking research. Not just visual research. And then, just like anything else, if you have a passion for it, you gotta just keep doing it.”

Day and night, huh?

“I was sewing all the time: here at the fire station; at home in the wee hours of the morning. My wife is like waking up, ‘What is that noise?’ It was the sewing machine. I’m just doing it, you know [laughs]? And it was getting better and better and better. I started picking up different fabrics and learning how to really make my bowties. That’s what I focus on. Not every other product, just bowties. They are something that’s trendy, nostalgic and cool, but sophisticated. So I kept focusing on that and trying to perfect the craft, man.”

Are you still perfecting it?

“Yeah, even now. I’m still developing. September was kind of the mark for me to say, ‘I’m comfort able with it.’ But prior to starting the company, I was in the trenches, making it happen, doing all sorts of stuff, researching different prototypes, having people wear them, seeing if they liked it. If they didn’t like it, I wanted feedback: What can I change? What can I alter? There was a lot of product development, at least eight months worth.”

What inspires the different looks that you offer?

“That’s a really good question. I don’t really have I’m not a standard guy. So it’s like, when I go into the store, whatever pops out at me. It could be gingham. It could be plaid. It could be a corduroy, whatever mood I’m in. Or, if I’m designing something specifically for a photo shoot, I might go after some grays. I might go after some blacks. I might go after some chocolates. Now with the spring time being here really soon, wedding season, I might go after some pinks, some blues, some lime greens, that type of stuff. That stands out, spring like colors.”

So you’re not afraid of wearing pink?

“No. I’ve worn pink polo shirts. I’ve worn pink dress shirts. I’ve worn pink ties, pink bowties. I think, I mean, a real man wears pink. Pink and grey, that’s a great combination together. And I’m not scared of a nice color palette. When you go to my home, we have abstract walls, we may have three walls that are tan, and then the last one is red. I love color. I think it’s pretty cool.”

What are your long term plans for Twenty23?

“I don’t want people to think that we’re just a bowtie company. The bowties are an introductory product. Moving forward, I’d like to definitely do some neckties. I definitely think there’s a market for that. Neck ties have been around many years, many centuries. And I think that neck ties, and bow ties, have a univer sal appeal for business. And business men, and even people who aren’t in the business field, love ties. They do. So definitely ties. Some pocket squares. I like doing stuff that’s traditional, but intricate. And then I’d definitely like to do a wooden bowtie line.”

Wait. Actual wood?

Yes. A bowtie made out of wood, as in the trees outside. It actually has been done. It’s not something that I’m actually creating myself. But I’ve worked with a local artisan, a local woodworker who’s done a few prototypes for me. It resembles a clip on necktie. It’s for that person who just wants to have fun with it. I don’t expect an executive of a Fortune 500 company to rock the [wooden] bowties. But it’s unique; it has its own flair to it. I would wear it just to have a great time.”
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