Darius Brown was 8 when his older sister, Dazhai, painstakingly taught him how to sew a bow tie. He wore the new Ninja Turtle-themed tie to school the next day, and when several of his friends wanted one, he returned to the sewing machine to make more.
Two years later, in 2017, he found a better use for his new hobby when he learned that hundreds of dogs and cats were left homeless in Florida and Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Irma.
The animals needed families to adopt them and Darius said he realized he could help them to stand out in crowded animal shelters if he made them look hilarious and adorable by wearing a bow tie.
So when some of the rescue animals were brought up north, Darius dropped off about 25 pet-sized bow ties at ASPCA animal shelter in New York City. It worked even better than he’d hoped, he said.
“Even something small like a tie can help get an animal adopted because a bow tie is unique and helps bring out a pet’s personality,” said Darius, now 14, who lives in Newark.
Four years later, his Singer sewing machine is still working overtime in his mom’s apartment. He estimates he’s donated more than 600 bow ties for dogs and cats in shelters.
“Polka dot ties, striped ties, ties with dog paws and rhinestones — every tie is different, and I like to sew them all,” said Darius, who is in eighth grade.
Shelter workers say that Darius’s bow ties help older animals, in particular, get noticed and adopted more quickly.
“Animals who wear them get adopted right away because people find them instantly charming,” said Lorri Caffrey, executive director of the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, N.J.
Caffrey received a first batch of two dozen ties from Darius two years ago.
“We’d never used bow ties before and right away we saw a big difference,” she said.
Darius said he’s been motivated to make them since he realized how successful they were with the Hurricane Irma pooches.
“I saw how happy the people at the shelter were to get the bow ties and how much the dogs liked them, and I decided to make more,” he said. “I came up with a goal to give bow ties to an animal shelter in every state.”
So far, he’s taken his bow ties to dogs — and a few lucky cats — in Washington, D.C. and eight states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
He made two red-white-and-blue ties for President Joe Biden’s dogs, Champ and Major, and said the patriotic ties were forwarded by the Delaware Humane Association to the White House. He hasn’t gotten word whether the first dogs have received or worn them.
Darius’s mother, Joy Brown, 42, said she’s not surprised that her son has stuck with his passion since the third grade.
Darius was diagnosed with a speech disorder and a fine motor skills disorder when he was 2, she said, and she initially worried that he might injure himself if he used his sister’s sewing machine.
“He was so determined — he sat and watched Dazhai for months and took it all in,” said Brown, a single mom who works in the home nursing industry. “He started out cutting fabric and pretty soon, he was running the sewing machine by himself.”
She credits sewing with helping her son further develop his fine motor skills and overcome his dexterity issues, she said.
Darius has always loved dogs, she said, but added that pets aren’t allowed in their apartment complex.
“He’d love to get a dachshund or a Pomeranian, but until then, he gets his dog fix at every animal shelter he can visit,” she said.
With his mother’s support, Darius launched Beaux and Paws on Facebook and Instagram, then started a fundraising campaign to help keep him supplied with sewing materials. He also sells his creations to the public on his Sir Darius Brown webpage and donates a portion of the profits to the ASPCA.
Darius said he now makes about 10 bow ties a week, each taking 15 minutes to complete.
“I work with all kinds of material, but it has to be washable since dogs like to roll around a lot,” he said. “I really like sparkly colors and bold fabrics because they stand out and draw attention.”
Darius said he’d one day like to open a foster shelter for dogs and expand his canine accessory line to feature dog sweaters and vests.
“A well-dressed dog,” he said. “That will make people smile.”