Andy Hearn of Grey Street Formal knew Patricia Brown three months before learning one of the most important lessons he’d ever experience.
The two met at a Business by Referral (BBR) event hosted by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I sat next to her at BBR a couple of times, and she was just Patricia. She was hysterical. I had no idea she worked right across from me until I was going down the elevator one time, and she said, ‘Where were you at breakfast this morning?’ That kind of sparked our relationship.”
That relationship and the lesson to come, were born from Hearn’s own successful formalwear business, which he started on a budget of $85, his last check from an unnamed competitor for whom he once worked. Since then, it has guided him toward a potentially good path for success that includes his effort being part of an event in New York’s Times Square.
WELCOME TO GREY STREET
Grey Street’s office is in a “156-square foot” space, Hearn proudly points out, in the top floor of Central Mall.
Brown is the chief operating officer at The City Wire nearby, where she splits time between her work as COO for the media platform and treatments for her second bout with breast cancer in Northwest Arkansas and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Brown approached Hearn for help with a “Pink Party” she was throwing, hoping he would dress up and deliver flowers to those in attendance. Hearn had the idea of showing up in pink, which Brown liked, “because the whole theme of the party was pink,” Hearn said.
“Without her knowing, I went ahead and ordered 10 or 12 pink bow ties and passed them out to the ladies as keepsakes or a token of the night. From there, I had a thought that this would be a good way for men and women to get together and show their support.”
Hearn continued: “Bow ties are starting to come back and be fashionable again. They’re cute, whimsical, whatever. When I get started with something, I’ll take it to the moon if I can.”
That last statement becomes obvious the moment you meet Hearn, whom one might refer to as “whimsical” himself. The 30-year old entrepreneur never finished college at Arkansas Tech University. He admits he was better at “bargaining for my grades than actually doing the work.”
He declares his love for sharks, pointing to the baby shark in a jar on his windowsill and a stack of shark-themed posters given to him by some grateful clients.
“It’s the only mammal that oxygenates itself. That means once it stops moving, it starts drowning.”
A graduate from Fort Smith Southside High School, Hearn launched the business on April Fool’s Day 2012, growing it from 107 tuxedo rentals the first month to the precipice of a national campaign, which has already won favor with the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
For each $20 bow tie sold, $10 goes directly to the global foundation, which launched in 1982 with the promise of Nancy G. Brinker to her sister (and the organization’s namesake), who was then dying of breast cancer.
Grey Street Formal has now raised $870 for the organization since launching the campaign Sept. 9. Hearn is joined by Sarah DeArmond, a 26-year old single mother of one from Greenwood, who “sells like a man.”
DeArmond jokes that Hearn is just a “boy with a dream,” a dream, he interjects, “to put a bow tie on everyone.”
This is two-thirds of the Grey Street Formal operation — and now the organizers of The Pink Bow Tie Campaign. Member three, Wes Travis, is also a manager at the Fort Smith Cheddar’s Restaurant and was unable to join the duo as they revealed more details of the campaign in a recent interview.
Hearn is not the kind of guy, who can lead from a desk, which is why you’ll find him wandering about Central Mall when he’s not out selling pink bow ties and the formalwear that is the crux of his business.
On Wednesday (Sept. 12), he’d returned from an Outback Steakhouse luncheon in Fort Smith, where he unloaded several more of the keepsakes.
“The people were really receptive to it. It’s just a neat thing, and a lot of people saw it was for a good cause, and were gathering around to get their pictures taken wearing them,” Hearn said.
Today, Hearn wears a black dress shirt, white suspenders, and one of his beloved pink bow ties, which he keeps near him in a treasure chest. He loves fashion and puts a lot in to the way he looks, from the crown of his head to the soles of his shoes.
The passion for his work is immediately noticeable, and that’s why it’s surprising when he produces a can of chewing tobacco and inserts a pinch between cheek and gum.
“I’m stressed. I can’t handle (organization),” Hearn states, adding that his partners “keep me organized, and keep this thing running.”
“Andy is the visionary,” DeArmond points out, though Hearn is quick to add that “there is no hierarchy here. We all have the same goal in mind, and they (DeArmond and Travis) believe in the vision.”
That vision, as far as The Pink Bow Tie Campaign is concerned: “There’s a cure for breast cancer, and we’re going to find it,” DeArmond states. “But we have to have help.”
The team at Grey Street Formal is finding more and more people willing to help each day.
“There are the three of us, but there’s also Patricia (Brown) and Vonda Gardner (co-owner of T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants in Fort Smith and Conway), and everyone who’s heard of it pushes it for us,” Hearn said. “We really rely a lot on our foot soldiers—unpaid help, spreading this word.”
According to The Pink Bow Tie Campaign website, the first New York-based event will start on Oct. 1 and consist of a “flash mob in Time Square” ending with “the NYC Halloween Parade.” Each October day and/or night in between will also have “some event,” Hearn said, though careful not to divulge all the details until plans are finalized.
“The potential in New York is just astronomical, and we’re not going to stop there. We want a national campaign. When people see a pink bow tie, we want them to know exactly what it stands for, and that’s Susan G. Komen.”
Hearn clarifies that he doesn’t want to replace the pink ribbon that has served as the organization’s icon for decades, but is instead interested in giving men a symbol to show their support in the fight against the disease.
“We want to reach beyond the checkbook. Men should have a symbol beyond what they’re giving and what they’re doing. And what’s more manly than a bow tie?” Hearn laughs. “A pink one, that’s what.”
In a short time, the Grey Street Formal team has owned the passion by which they are now driven — the passion of the pink bow tie. But Hearn is the first to admit that Brown was his inspiration, and that it wouldn’t have happened without her.
“God, Patricia. She’s just her. I’ve never seen somebody be put in such a horrible situation, to have this happen to her again. Most people would throw in the towel, and just say, ‘Forget it,’ and most people wouldn’t blame them, or blame her if she was going to be like, ‘The universe hates me. God hates me.’ I wouldn’t blame her for that attitude. But she has flipped that on its head and said, ‘I know my lifespan. I know where I’m at. And I am going to appreciate every second of it.’ Unfortunately, there are girls being born in the next few months that, when they grow, they are going to develop breast cancer. It’s going to happen, and we need role models like Patricia. They need role models like that.”
As for that lesson Hearn has learned from Brown?
“You can take one of two roads. You can be gloomy and depressed and just continue to die every day, or you can die ONE day, and live every second up to that point.”