Since the retirement from the Ohio State presidency of Dr. E. Gordon Gee, perhaps no person is doing more to mesh Buckeye Nation and the noble bow tie as Malcolm Jenkins.
The former All-America cornerback at Ohio State and current member of the New Orleans Saints has started Rock Avenue Bow Ties, a company that produces the fashion staple with Jenkins’ personal touch.
Named after one of the main streets in Jenkins’ hometown of Piscataway, N.J., the company is owned and operated by the NFL veteran, who has selected the fabrics, ships the product and wears his own designs.
And to hear Jenkins tell it, Ohio State fans and bow tie aficionados have more in common than a predilection to liking Dr. Gee.
“It’s just like, you know how if you go to Ohio State, you’re a Buckeye? It’s kind of the same thing among people who wear bow ties,” Jenkins said. “You see them, especially if you both have one on at the same time, you give each other that look like, I know you’re in the club.”
Jenkins would know, having spent four years at Ohio State and just about as much time using the bow tie as a personal style trademark. While his decision to play at Ohio State allowed him to become one of the best defensive backs in the country and a football star, his move into the neckwear industry could be the kind of thing that will provide a future once his NFL days are done.
That wasn’t really in Jenkins’ mind when he got into business, though. To say Rock Avenue, which released its first line in July, is a labor of love is a bit of an understatement.
“It’s just a new experience for me,” he told BuckeyeSports.com. “I’ve been playing football for a long time, so opening my own business and for it to be something that I actually enjoy doing is making it fun. For me, the best part was going to find the fabrics that I want to wear and then design it the way I wanted to. It’s been fun and encouraging that people have complimented mine, and people are really starting to get behind it.”
The enjoyment of the product is the reason his company exists at all. After starting to wear bow ties on a regular basis in his early years in the NFL, Jenkins ran into an interesting problem – finding bow ties he likes. The right tie can make or break a wardrobe, and Jenkins simply wasn’t finding what he wanted.
“I was trying to look for bow ties that I would look good in, and it was becoming harder and harder to find the styles that I really liked,” Jenkins said. “Then one day my wife was like, ‘We should just make our own.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean, make our own?’ ”
Jenkins ended up going that route, though, acquiring a sewing machine and getting to work. He made a few ties that he liked and wore but didn’t feel comfortable selling, so he ended up in New York City looking at fabrics this offseason with an eye on starting the business.
Sending an NFL player from the locker room to the Fashion District might sound like a stretch, but it wasn’t that crazy to Jenkins, whose comfort in his own skin is evidenced by the simple choice to wear the bow tie.
“You wear one to stand out,” Jenkins said. “You’re one of those people who wants to do something different, and that’s something to be applauded.”
Having the confidence to stand out is nothing new for Jenkins, one of the best Buckeye defensive backs of the past few decades. His talent was so strong he played as the team’s nickel back as a true freshman at the age of 17, racking up 37 tackles on the 2005 team that won the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame.
He went on to start as a corner for three seasons from 2006-08, racking up 196 tackles, 11 interceptions, pick-sixes vs. Penn State in both 2006 and ’07, 28 pass breakups and four forced fumbles in his career. During Jenkins’ senior season, he was a consensus All-American and winner of the Thorpe Award as college football’s best DB, becoming the first Buckeye since Antoine Winfield to capture that honor.
The New Jersey native then became a first-round draft pick of the Saints, where he moved to safety. Coming into the season, Jenkins had 290 career tackles and four interceptions along with a pair of touchdowns.
Now in his fifth year in New Orleans, Jenkins has used the city as well as Piscataway to inspire part of his line. New Orleans Design, Development & Manufacture, LLC, now makes Jenkins’ bow ties, and some of the proceeds benefit the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, which serves youth in both New Jersey and New Orleans. The “In That Number” tie of black and gold silk is clearly an homage to the Saints.
That is fitting because it was in New Orleans where Jenkins began to put together his signature style. While at Ohio State, the defensive back could often be seen in interview rooms wearing standard-issue scarlet-and-gray attire or the purple and gold of his Omega Psi Phi fraternity, but that changed when reaching the next level.
“Every time we traveled we had to wear a suit and tie, so I started getting custom-tailored suits, and then I just wanted to stand out from everybody else,” Jenkins said. “I started wearing bow ties. I would wear a clip on, and I wore that for about a year and a half and then I met people who actually design their own bow ties who would look down on me, so at that point, I learned to tie my own tie.
“Once I learned how to tie my own, I figured out that you’re not accepted until you know how to tie your own.”
Jenkins said at that point he put all of his clip-on ties into a bag and stowed them away, though he continues to be well aware that one of the hurdles for people to clear when it comes to wearing bow ties is learning how to tie them.
As a result, Jenkins made the following video to showcase his skills, and it is perhaps the best, most instructive tutorial on the web.
“One of the reasons that people don’t wear bow ties is they’re intimidated about tying them,” he said. “Not a lot of people know how to tie a bow tie, so we wanted to do a tutorial so people weren’t intimidated by it and tried to make it as simple as possible.”
With accessibility like that and the personal work that Jenkins puts into each tie his company produces, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rock Avenue keep on growing. In the meantime, though, Jenkins has no concrete vision for what the business might or might not become going forward. Simply put, he’s just enjoying the ride and hoping his fashion sense will keep catching on.
“Now I just have to sell them to people who have the same style that I have,” he said. “The business part of it, we want that to go to well, but for me, it’s like worst-case scenario is I was able to sell a few bow ties that I actually enjoy wearing.”