Ryan and Daniel Smith, brothers who co-founded the company Modern Tie, seem like fairly normal businessmen. They’re friendly, driven, economical and well-dressed.
Their product, a tie that comes in two pieces — a “knot” made out of plastic or metal, and an attachable, interchangeable “tie” attached magnetically — has already gained a following in Utah, particularly at the Missionary Training Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Provo.
Ryan Smith explained that a neighbor purchased a tie for her son before he went on a mission, and then while her son was at the MTC, she began messaging the brothers over Instagram about dozens of missionaries getting excited about the ties.
She even shared it to a missionary mom Facebook group, Daniel Smith added, where it really took off.
In conjunction, the brothers’ Kickstarter was a rousing success — they raised their goal amount, a little under $10,000, in just 10 hours — but the funds kept pouring in until they doubled that number. Now, they have plans to expand to a women’s line, with more feminine designs and patterns, as well as a kid’s line.
The ties have even been worn by wrestling stars and celebrities — Adrian Dev from Westworld and Chris Pang from Crazy Rich Asians have both been spotted wearing Modern Tie, and the brothers said they’re working on a custom tie for the son of UFC fighter Chuck Liddell.
Although the product and its success is a bit atypical, it sounds like an average Cinderella business story. But there’s more to it — Ryan and Daniel Smith have both been clean for 10 years after becoming addicted to opiates as teenagers.
OxyContin and the following opioid “crisis” first swept through Utah in then 1990s and early 2000s. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016, there were 466 opioid-related overdose deaths in Utah, a rate of 16.4 deaths per 100,000 persons, more than the national rate of 13.3. From 2014-2015, the rate in southern Utah County alone were staggeringly high, at 27.68 deaths per 100,000.
Daniel Smith was only a sophomore in high school when he first tried OxyContin, and Ryan Smith was just 19 years old. The next few years were a whirlwind of checking into rehab, staying clean for a few months, relapsing and starting the process over again.
“It took a good ... five years of our lives at least,” Daniel Smith said. “We didn’t even know it was necessarily such an addictive substance at first, we just didn’t know anything about it.”
Both brothers went through multiple treatment centers. Meanwhile, they both had friends who died battling addiction, and Ryan Smith said it tore their family apart.
“Even (Daniel and me) being around each other was kind of like being around a bad influence at that time,” Ryan Smith said. “So we basically were separated from being with each other, and I think that was the hardest part of everything.”
Now, their lives are totally different — the brothers are back together and better than ever.
“We both feel like different people at this point. It’s just weird to kind of even think that was part of what we grew up and those painful times,” Ryan Smith said. “It’s just been so long, and we just don’t even think of that stuff anymore.”
Fast forward to just two years ago, both brothers are married with kids. One day, Ryan Smith said he was late for an event and was trying to tie his tie — and failing. He thought, there had to be a better way to get the length of his tie right, without resorting to something like a zipper tie.
So the story goes, Ryan Smith went over to his brother’s house with the first “prototype” of what would become the Modern Tie knot: a bent coat hanger.
“It’s bent over, it’s kind of in a v-shape, and then he wrapped a pop can around the hanger,” Daniel Smith recalled. “He’s like, ‘this is going to change the tie industry,’ and I was like, ‘man, you’re nuts, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
From that point, the brothers would fold up anything they could, even carving candles to try and get the shape they wanted, until a friend introduced them to an engineer to create a more official prototype. From there, they went through four different engineers until they found the perfect design.
“We were very persistent in not giving up because there (were) so many times when we were like, man, this is not a very good-lookin’ tie,” Daniel Smith said. “But finally, we got there.”
They still keep the bent hanger in their office, although the pop can fell off at some point. One day soon, they hope to use recycled pill bottles in their product, encouraging people to responsibly dispose of their medications. It’s just one of the ways they hope to raise awareness around opiate addiction and battle it.
Although Ryan and Daniel Smith don’t dwell on the dark times of their drug addiction, they have incorporated that part of their lives into their product. A portion of Modern Tie sales goes towards sponsoring people to get into rehab, providing access to medication to help with recovery and education.
“It’s something that we’re definitely really passionate about,” Daniel Smith said. “(Addiction and recovery) totally shaped our lives. I know that’s one of the reasons why we’re so driven.”
In addition to creating an already high-demand product, the brothers have a message of hope for individuals struggling with addiction and the people who care about them.
“No mater how bleak you might feel in the moment, you can get through it and go on to lead a successful life,” Daniel Smith wrote in a text message. “For (loved ones)... have persistence and know that there are ways to beat this.”
Most importantly of all, he added, know you are not alone.
“There are so many people out there going through the same thing,” Daniel Smith wrote. “Lean on others who have battled before.”
Modern Tie products can be purchased online at moderntie.com, and will soon become available in Utah stores.
Article Published on Tuesday March 5, 2019.