How This Single Mom is Helping Her Teenage Son Build a Bow Tie Empire

Tramica Morris is raising an incredible kid. Her son, Moziah, is the CEO of Mo's Bows, a clothier that specializes in hand-made bow-ties. Since their appearance on the 5th season of ABC's Shark Tank the company has grown rapidly, and Tramica has had to balance working for her son with mothering him.

Born to a 14-year-old mother, Tramica left her job at Fortune 500 company to work on Mo's vision. Her support and guidance have been instrumental in catapulting her son to success. She spoke to editor-in-chief, Kimberly Foster, about the importance of encouraging entrepreneurship and the difficulties of growing a fashion empire from the ground up.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For Harriet: A lot of us first became familiar with Mo's Bows through Shark Tank. Whose idea was it to go on the show?

Tramica Morris: You know what? Shark Tank actually reached out to us after one of the producers saw a write-up of Mo in the August 2013 issue of O Magazine. It was "50 Thing That Make You Say Wow," and Mo was number 9, I believe. One of the producers from the show saw Mo's piece in the magazine and reached out to us. We were actually very nervous. I think we turned them down initially. It was because we were afraid. In my mind it was like, you're not going to be on national TV and have me and my son just looking crazy.

We watched the show before. You have to know your stuff, otherwise they will be sharks to you. They reached out to us and asked us to apply, and we did. They accepted us. It was great.

For Harriet: You guys did a wonderful job. You could tell that by the time you appeared on Shark Tank you were already pretty stable in business. The business was thriving.  Let's go back to the beginning of the business. How did Mo's Bows come about?
Tramica Morris: As early as 4 years old, I would allow him [Mo] to dress himself. When I knew he could put on his own clothes, I'd just say simply, "Go and get dressed. We're headed out." Either he was going to school or it was on a Saturday morning going out for the day. I would say, “go get dressed.” To my surprise, getting dressed in his mind was a suit and a tie or a bow tie or some of his best dress clothes, his Sunday best clothes, I suppose.

When he was nine he decided to “step up his game,” is what he says. He was wearing neckties when I allowed him to, usually clip-ons. Then, he decided he wanted to wear bow ties. We asked granny to teach him [how to make them], and from there he started wearing them and selling them. He started off selling them at one point for $5.00, giving them away first. He would give them away and sell them for $5.00 or trade them for rocks or a bag of potato chips. 

Then we fast-forward to 5 years later, he's selling them anywhere from $30.00 to $60.00 and in stores like Neiman-Marcus as well.
For Harriet: That is really incredible. You also sell in a lot of smaller boutiques.
Tramica Morris: Absolutely. I think we're in about 15 states now and specialty boutiques which is great because they really get behind the brand and promote it and push it. We really like the specialty boutiques. We're headed to Florida this weekend for him to appear on Home Shopping Network on Monday. That's going to be fun.
There is a market for bow ties and he's tapped into it. We're excited about that.

For Harriet: Absolutely. It seems like from him creating his own bow ties and expressing himself personally, to a business, that happened pretty seamlessly. What was that transition like?
Tramica Morris: Yeah. It was very organic. It was just one of those things. He wore what made him feel good and what made him look good. He realized that just by wearing it he received so many compliments and so many inquiries. “Where did you get that tie?” “ You look sharp!” Folks love seeing a good looking kid dressed up in the grocery store or going nowhere in particular but completely dressed up. That's how he wanted to feel all the time.

It grew organically into a business from folks wanting to have those ties. Keep it in mind, too, they were from Granny's fabric. This was fabric that they had for 50 years. To the current eyes, to the newer generation this was different stuff. It's not mass produced in China. She only had pieces and scraps of it. It was from old dresses or uniforms that she made or suits that she made back in the 50s and 60s. It was a very nice, classic print.

For Harriet: I love the idea of passing down this creativity and this mode of expression through the generations. Do you sew?
Tramica Morris: I don't sew. No. My background is simply being a mother who believes in the future of my child and other children period. I just believe in recognizing the passion and then nurturing it. My background is in retirement services for the last 12 years, nothing related to fashion, nothing really related to business, and nothing related to sewing.

For Harriet: This is really interesting then. When you recognized that the business was taking off, was it a difficult decision for you to leave your job and pursue this journey with your son?
Tramica Morris: It was not a difficult decision. Like I said, I used the word "organic" and I've used the word "natural" a lot. Things kind of happened so fast and so quickly. In my mind it's like it's already been done. It's just us taking the time to listen, pay attention and to follow the path that pretty much has been laid for us. That's one thing I stress in Mo's life is that he comes from greatness. That's just something that is enough, and it's important for us to tap into that.

It was really easy for me to transition from working for a Fortune 500 company to working for my child. The company I was working for didn't really appreciate the skills and talents that I possessed in the position I was with them. I found that I was more valuable to Mo and Mo's Bows, and, ultimately, to the future of my child than I was to a company. I said, why don't I just focus all my energy on this until something else comes up. Unbeknownst to me, the business ireally took off when I did give it my all and put all of my energy in it.

For Harriet: I am an entrepreneur, and I know years ago when I started this business that my mom would have much preferred that I chose a more stable life. The Black folks I know say their parents have discouraged them from pursuing entrepreneurship because the stability is not there. Why was entrepreneurship something that you wanted to steer your son toward and encourage?
Tramica Morris: Entrepreneurship was something I wanted to encourage in him. I believe it had to do with my own personal upbringing. My mom being a single mom of 4 [was] having to work 3 jobs at one point. Then myself having to go to work and at times being moved to tears because I was so upset with the position or with what was happening in my other job. I encourage working for yourself, encourage providing jobs for others, and encourage fueling the economy with your talent and your creativity.

It was important [for me] to push entrepreneurship and the idea of working for yourself—to teach him not to grow up and say, "Oh I'm going to get a great job!" No, grow up and say, "I'm out on my own, and I'm going to provide jobs."

For Harriet: Anybody who runs a business knows that there are lots of sacrifices that accompany it. How do you and Mo manage those sacrifices, manage the time and the energy? He is a kid. He's going to school. You're a mom. You still have to be a parent. How do you work through that?
Tramica Morris: Absolutely. It just a tough job. It really is. In fact, what it comes down to is allowing him to keep the balance. Mo is 14 now. Being a teenager is way different than when I was younger. Having those very candid conversations with him like, “Hey, what's working for you? What's not working for you?” Then allowing him the ability to be 14, as 14 as he can be, and allowing him the opportunity to pull the plug at any time if he feels it.

Pushing him gently. I was on a plane, I think, when we were leaving from filming the Shark Tank episode, and we just so happened to be sitting in the row on the airplane next to Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen’s mom. She met Mo. Her advice was to lead from behind. Allow your children to grow but lead from behind. Allowing them to make those decisions, allowing them to make mistakes but still guiding them.

I check in with him. “Are you still 14? What do you like? What don't you like”, and I listen to him. As far as sacrifices, the thing is really to keep the balance, letting him know who Momma is at all times. Yes, you are the CEO of Mo's Bows, but I am the CEO of Mo. You're 14. It's easy when he's in the spotlight to get a big head and say, "Oh, I'm Mo." It's like, "Yeah, you're Mo, but in this house, you're my child."

He understands that. I have to remind him, of course. We have a pretty good balance of work relationship versus personal. He separates his time. He's home-schooled. In the day he's doing school work. In the evenings he's does bow tie work. Then, of course, he's always playing with friends, or going to the mall and the movies, regular 14-year-old stuff. Like I say, I ask him all the time, "Are you still 14?" That's important. He says, "Yes." As long as he keeps saying “yes”, I think we're good.

For Harriet: Do you have time to focus on your own interests?
Tramica Morris: I, in the last couple of months, said that I needed to start doing, not so much focus on it, but incorporating it into my schedule. I don't have as much time as I would like. My passion lies in community relations. I sit on the board for a historically Black cemetery. I'm a part of our neighborhood association with an historically Black neighborhood association. Then, my passion again was my children. I only have one, but I say I have a lot of children because I have nieces and nephews and friends' kids. I just found in working with Mo and getting him to this point in his business, that I definitely have a soft spot for the little ones.
the 2016 go mo bow -
For Harriet: You expressed earlier the fulfillment that you get from seeing your son get to pursue his passion and really grow this business. It's got to be really game changing.
Tramica Morris: Oh absolutely. That's true. I'm 38-years-old. I'll be 39 this year and I don't feel like my life is completely over or I'll never be able to tap into my passions. If I can birth an innovator, then that's good for me to be able to say I've raised an innovator, someone who is going to make a mark on this world.

One of the greatest accolades he received, I'm more excited about it probably than him, is the fact that his bow ties and pocket squares are in the Tennessee State Museum. For his great-great-grandchildren to be able to go into the museum and see our family there, that to me is huge! That's a big thing. Tommy Hilfiger has called me, and he's met the President, even. To me, to really bring it home to our name being in the family museum, or as long as it will be available, that's huge. That's important to me.

For Harriet: Of course that's not to diminish the actual work that you are putting into building Mo's Bows every day. In what capacity do you work with the business?
Tramica Morris: It's full-time for me, 100%. My hands are in everything from the production of the ties to the marketing and relations. We just had the conversation yesterday that it's gotten bigger than me now. I'm a bit of a control freak.

For Harriet: How do you handle disagreements with your son about the business?
Tramica Morris: Sometimes I have to bite my tongue because I realize this is something that came from him. This is his passion. My passion is not fashion. His passion is fashion, and this is something that he wants to do. Ultimately, I want him to have a financially secure future which is another reason why we decided to start the business when he was younger. As far as disagreements, it comes down to me sometimes having to say, "You know what? This is his vision. This is his brand. He does know his stuff." I trust him and he's true to the brand. Usually I'm going, “Hey this makes sense financially for us, let's do it.” He says, "Mom, that doesn't work for me. That's not a part of my brand. It doesn't fit what I envision."

I have to step back. Then there are other times when I say, "No, no, this is the way it's going down and this is how it's going to happen." Then he says okay. I have to pull Mom rank sometimes and he pulls CEO rank sometimes. For me, I guess I've been labeled a free spirit all my life. I don't let a lot of stuff really linger for us. We're real shake-it-off kind of people. Let's move on. Keep it moving. We don't get into a whole lot of arguments. It's like we have so much to do. What's next on the plate. Let's keep it going.

For Harriet: Mo is the face of the business. You have also become kind of a public figure as well. You mentioned that you might be appearing on HSN with him. How have you managed that?
Tramica Morris: I've been nervous about it. I went to college. I majored in communication and a minor with theater. Now, i'm not a stranger to public speaking and being in the public, but I want to make him more of the face. I've received a couple of speaking engagements. I think Mo was scheduled to speak, and someone prior to him had canceled. They asked me to introduce Mo. Just from me introducing him, other people in the audience booked me for two different gigs.

I guess when they look at Mo and what he has accomplished, that means maybe there's a story behind his upbringing. I've handled them pretty well. I prefer not to do a lot of these public appearances just because my focus is really first being mom and that takes a lot. That comes with dinner, homework and a haircut. I feel like the more I'm in the public is the less time I have to do what my first job is, which is to be a mom.

For Harriet: What advice would you give to other parents who want to nurture that creative spirit, entrepreneurial spirit in their kids?
Tramica Morris: I would certainly say to listen to them, to pay attention to them, to invest in them and to believe in your children. That's my big thing, and to certainly let them know who they are and where they come from. I always tell parents I feel like there's a Mo's Bow in every household. I feel like there's a Mo's Bows in all of our children if we nurture that. For instance, one of my friends has a son, he's 4, he really likes race cars. Just pay attention to that. Nurture that, encourage that. He may be not so much a race car driver, but an engineer. You just never know.

For me, it's definitely letting them know who they are and investing in them, encouraging confidence and encouraging that confidence in them.

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