Fashion & Beauty | September 27, 2015
Maintaining strong lines from the past for the future.
Like the slow and steady tide of the ocean against the shore, time gradually washes away the lessons from yesteryear. In the process, many of the lines to the old ways have been cut — their secrets forever lost to history.
Matt Beaudoin is one who maintains a strong, direct line to the past for the future. His line runs through the centuries to the nation’s early seafaring way of life — with Mystic Knotwork; his family’s business that started in the skilled, powerful hands of his grandfather more than 50 years ago.
Located in Mystic, Connecticut, the company employs half a dozen people. At the same time, they employ age-old knot-tying techniques in creative ways to make and distribute 30 diverse product lines — everything from sailor knot bracelets, anklets, and necklaces, to home and boat decorations, and products for nautical weddings.
TWISTS AND TURNS.
Like rope itself, the history of Mystic Knotwork has gone through many twists and turns. “My grandpa started the business back in the 1950s with fine, delicate work and an extremely high level of detail,” Beaudoin recalls. “His work was very well known. In fact, people traveled to see him from all over the world by the 1970s. At that time, he started making picture frames and decorative detail work. During the ‘80s, he ventured into neon synthetics for the style of the age while still continuing to develop his skill with classic material on the side.”
That’s when Beaudoin says the business went through a reboot.
“From about 1990 to 2002, we were purely a wholesale bracelet business and no one really knew who we were,” Beaudoin says. “In 2008, that’s when the name became Mystic Knotwork. Today, we’re a direct seller of dozens of product designs using all American grown and made cotton. We have a much broader public appeal, and we do a lot of our business online.” One of the twists in the tale of this business involves the Internet, a fact that Beaudoin says can’t be overstated.
“The Internet is the only way that we’re in business today,” he says. “My grandpa’s business was really more like a hobby. There were 12 of us tying knots years ago, including my grandpa, grandma, my dad, my uncle, all the grandkids.”
The world-wide reach of today’s business has led to a new model.
“What we’re doing today is more like a real business and less like a hobby,” Beaudoin points out. “We have four hourly employees and our products have reached every continent except Antarctica. We did a wedding last year in Singapore and a few in Australia.”
FROM HAND TO HAND… GENERATION TO GENERATION.
At the height of his career, the aging Alton Beaudoin was known by many to be the number one knot tier in the world. He had been a merchant marine before World War II — a time when he learned many secrets of his craft from the aging seafarers who had worked the world’s oceans in the 1800s.
And Alton’s influence continues to be felt today. In fact, Matt says probably 75 percent of today’s knot tiers can tie their knowledge to his grandpa. “They either learned from Grandpa or they learned from someone else who learned with him.”
“But he was still stuck with where he had been with a small shop that really didn’t make much money,” the younger Beaudoin says. “He lived on a small pension and Social Security. Today, I have a tenth of his skill, but a thousand times his voice. And much of that is because of how we’re able to market online.”
HARD WORK. CAREFUL PLANNING.
While the reach of Mystic Knotwork continues to stretch further around the world, Matt Beaudoin says his days aren’t without challenges.
“One challenge is the mundane work itself,” he says. “One of the tasks we routinely do is measure out and glue string. In fact, we each spend about 15 to 20 hours a week cutting a piece of string 9 feet long.”
Cutting string is just the start. As you might guess, the knots come next—lots of them through the years. “I’d estimate that I’ve been tying about 15,000 to 30,000 of them a year since 1978,” Beaudoin says.
All that handwork would surely take its toll on a person’s hands, wouldn’t it?
“I’ve taken a lot of time learning how to do this in a way that I could sustain. My mom is a rehab nurse. So from an early age she would correct me if I was putting my hands in real awkward positions. She showed me how to keep my hands in a neutral position, and she taught me a lot about the value of kinesthetics,” Beaudoin recalls. “Plus, I’m very careful not to tie more than half an hour at a burst before taking a break.”
The other ongoing challenge facing Mystic Knotwork involves Beaudoin’s supply chain. “The rope we use is custom made. And it takes a $2,000 up-front outlay and three months for it to come in before we can start working with it and transforming it into the products we sell.”
A GRIP ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT.
Part of Beaudoin’s motivation involves giving back to the community — the nautical community and the area around Mystic. “We’re on the cusp of breaking out into something really fun. One thing we’re working on is with those who coordinate shoreline cleanup in this area. We’re talking with them about recycling any ropes that they find along the shore. If they power wash it and send it to us, we can make decorative outdoor items such as doormats that can be sold to help the cause. I figure if they can sell something we make for $20, that may be another tank of gasoline or something like that to help defray the costs of saving the shoreline.”
For centuries, sailors have depended on the knots they tied to preserve their livelihoods and their lives. That tradition is being held onto and refined in ways that people around the world can enjoy.
Mystic Knotwork boasts sales in 75 outlets in the U.S.; including many gift shops and museums on both American coasts, as well as retail outlets.
Yet the success is just part of the reason for the journey.
“What we’re doing is a way to bring a little bit of southern New England to those ex-pats who have moved away. The products we create help them maintain a connection to the area,” he says. “But that’s just the start. My goal is to keep Grandpa’s memory alive and to help maintain a very strong bridge from the past to the present and to add knots back into the nautical decorative scene like it used to be.”
And there’s no sign of this line fraying any time soon. Thanks to Matt Beaudoin and Mystic Knotwork, this connection to the past is strong and secure.
Credits // Author: Dave Danielson Photos: Mystic Knotwork