Maker Faire Detroit: Interview with Bethany Shorb of Cyberoptix Tie Lab

Maker Faire Detroit: Interview with Bethany Shorb of Cyberoptix Tie Lab

Bethany Shorb of Cyberoptix Tie Lab

Detroit’s creative community is mind-blowing, dedicated, and full of city pride. Last year, I remember seeing a T-shirt that summed it up: “Detroit Hustles Harder.” One of Detroit’s notable makers is Bethany Shorb of Cyberoptix Tie Lab, creator of some of the most original ties on the planet. Bethany will be exhibiting at this year’s Maker Faire Detroit, taking place this weekend, July 30 and 31, at The Henry Ford in Dearborn.

1. Tell us about Cyberoptix Tie Lab: what inspired you to make ties and how did you get started?
The Tie Lab division came about very organically. One afternoon I was experimenting with making a printed jacket for my fiancé. I had a silkscreen prepared with a huge graphic already sized for a larger garment. In fears of ruining the jacket, I practiced first on a few vintage, World War II-issue wool ties lying about the studio. (I’m a rabid comber of local antique and junk shops for photo and styling props.) I liked how they came out, edges truncated. I quickly photographed them and put them on Flickr, where I frequently archive and test market new work. The next day a few blogs picked up the images (including the MAKE blog!), and then a few more. And all the sudden I had people emailing me demanding to get one (or many more). Thankfully I’m adept at hand-coding, and I put up a quick site to purchase the ties by later that night.

People always ask me why I “just make ties,” like it’s a bad word. Ties are always spoken of with such derision and sneer. They’re the perpetual punchline in songs and jokes, and consistently maligned as the most boring gift to give or receive. Think of Dad muttering, “Oh a tie. Thanks.” I wanted to change that. The necktie is such an interesting design problem; its shape gives the designer a challenging “canvas” to design on (dimension-wise, as it’s so long and thin, unlike a T-shirt).

Conceptually, the tie is a traditionally hated object, one that symbolizes restraint, conformity, and is the symbol of corporate American drudgery. What fun and challenge is there in designing something that people already love? I enjoy subverting traditional tie patterns and motifs without venturing too much into gauche “novelty tie” territory. I have many clients who have jobs in the arts and want to wear something that is still artful, handmade, and well designed — but not stifling creatively.

2. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?
I’ve read MAKE magazine for years and always hoped that one of the events would come to Detroit. As much as I love to travel, I unfortunately have very limited time to do so, as running a busy studio demands all my time. We’re so fortunate now to have one right here. Having a Maker Faire local to Detroit is a wonderful catalyst to excite both the very young and bring more experienced adult makers together. We have a city and surrounding area abundant with with tinkerers, artists, crafters, and engineers from a very strong technical and conceptual skill set. It’s a really special time to be able to share what we do with others.

3. Describe to us the technique you’ll be demonstrating at the Faire.
In addition to selling finished men’s accessories, I’ll be demonstrating an environmentally responsible method of screenprinting that should be easy to understand and does not require a large investment to set up in one’s home or studio. This process is applicable to printing on a variety of surfaces, including fabric, metal, and wood. For some reason, there is a mystique and perceived level of extreme difficulty surrounding the screenprinting trade. I’m hoping to show some folks that it doesn’t have to be so hard! A few weeks ago I acquired a literal truckload of vintage circuit board and electronics schematic silkscreens. I’m super excited to debut these new, limited edition designs at Maker Faire.

Cyberoptix Screen Boards

4. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I’ve always made things since being a wee kid and knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life at a very early age. I have fond memories of developing film with my Dad in our basement darkroom — that was pretty exciting work for a six-year-old! I received my MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art ten years ago and currently split my time between exhibiting fine art internationally and running the men’s accessories line, Cyberoptix. We operate one of the largest sustainable, water-based, solvent-free print shops in the country right in Downtown Detroit’s Eastern Market — providing a seditious, punky fashion statement for executives bound to the neck noose, and a sharply styled alternative for those who don’t need to wear a tie, but choose to do so. All ties and scarves are designed and printed in-house. To date, I’ve hand-printed close to 50,000 neckties without the assistance of any machinery or automation. In addition to our stand-alone web shop and Etsy store, we’re fortunate to have grown the business, providing neckties to over 250 independent boutiques and museum shops.

I was lucky to see the exhibition, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” in New York last month. As I’ve always found his work a great inspiration, his recent, premature passing was devastating. A few of his quotes are daily meditations: “You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.” “I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”

5. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
I’m still really excited about the internet circa 1995 when it evolved to having pictures and a shopping cart. The fact that one can base his or her operation in a city that may not have the population density needed to support a niche business but still have the ability to easily take in and ship orders around the world the next day is pretty amazing, Jetson’s kind of stuff to me. Still waiting for that flying car though.

6. What is your motto?
“Ties That Don’t Suck!”

Cyberoptix Circuit Ties

7. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?
Don’t get distracted or be lazy. If you really believe in your idea, you’ll probably have to put aside a few things you enjoy in order to get your idea or business off the ground, but it will be more than worth it in the end! You can sleep or socialize later. Chances are someone has the same or similar idea, and it’s up to you alone to make it happen first and best. While your peers can be an important source of support, look to the masters in your field for inspiration, not just your classmates who may be working with better proficiency. Look to the Eameses, the McQueens. and Van deer Rohes of the world, not little Johnny sitting next to you who got an A.

8. What do you love most about Detroit?
The comparatively low cost of operation allows artists an intense freedom to explore ideas that might not be possible elsewhere, and with resultant success attained far earlier in one’s career. We have both time and resources to dedicate to our craft that one might not be able to in New York or L.A. while paying $3000 a month in rent alone. People here are very resourceful and self-sufficient — the whiners and coat-tail riders are weeded out fast — self-starting and follow-through is a must here.

Thanks Bethany!

For all the information you need to attend this weekend’s extravaganza, visit the Maker Faire Detroit website.

Detroit is the freedom to make things… by Bethany Shorb

4 thoughts on “Maker Faire Detroit: Interview with Bethany Shorb of Cyberoptix Tie Lab

  1. Anonymous says:

    this is a fantastic interview!

  2. Studioklinicseven Kristine Div says:

    Bethany is one of the highlights of Detroit. She’s a talented, beautiful, and driven lady everyone should really keep their eyes on.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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