In pursuit of the perfect shoelace

About a year ago, Tim Neill took a long, hard look at his shoelaces. They were broken and frayed.

“Then I looked at my three young boys, and all of their shoelaces were broken, too,” Neill, 43, said.

Replacements, it turned out, were difficult to come by. So Neill, a former marketing executive, set out to make his own line of specialty laces.

He founded Red Hand, which he runs out of his Silver Spring home, in June 2012. The first round of the company’s shoelaces — black, red, white and striped — will be available online this summer for $4 to $8.

Eventually, Neill plans to add about a dozen more colors. The company is also experimenting with the use of high-powered magnetic tips that would help keep shoelaces together.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about shoelaces,” Neill said. “That’s our mantra: We think through things other people have stopped worrying about.”

The company has a design team in Detroit, and its laces are manufactured in Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It took nearly nine months to perfect the design, Neill said.

“We found a couple of shoelaces that we liked and brought them to our braiders,” he said. “And then we had to tweak things like the density of the threads and the lengths of the laces so they would stay tied longer.”

Shortly thereafter, Neill and Shawn Broxson, a partner at the company, decided to broaden their focus.

“At a certain point, we said, ‘Let’s look at the other stuff guys wear every day and improve them, too,’ ” Neill said.

The company’s newest targets: Finding alternatives to undershirts that come untucked and dress socks with a tendency to inch down.

Neill and Broxson added padding to the heels and toes of dress socks and tested undershirts on a dozen men: Were the arm holes long enough? Was the thickness of the cotton just right? Did the shirt stick out when the second button of a dress shirt was unbuttoned?

The duo invested $50,000 of their own money into the venture. The company is in the process of raising $30,000 more on Kickstarter. (As of late last week, it had secured about $21,000.)

Neill said he hopes to eventually have a storefront and fulfillment space in Petworth, Brookland or Silver Spring.

“We’re about to be inundated with big, huge boxes of inventory, so we’re looking for semi-industrial space where we can set up,” he said.

Abha Bhattarai covers local retail, hospitality and banking for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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