High Cotton, a men’s apparel and accessory store in downtown Raleigh, is providing NC State students an opportunity to demonstrate their design talent. 

The store was founded in 2010 after Judy Hill began making washable, cotton bow ties for her son, Cameron, who was a medical student at the University of Virginia. Cameron had always worn bow ties but was unable to wear the typical silk bow tie because the delicate material easily gathered bacteria. Other doctors at UVa began to show interest in Cameron’s cotton ties, and soon they became Hill’s first customers. 

The original High Cotton store was in Charlotte, but Hill always wanted to move back to Raleigh, her native town. In 2013, Hill was able to move High Cotton’s flagship store to downtown Raleigh, just a few miles away from NC State, where her father taught for 45 years.  

“I grew up here in Raleigh and went to Broughton High School,” Hill said. “I was trying to figure out how to get back to Raleigh and draw upon NC State talent for my designs.”

After the move, Hill started an annual paisley contest, which immediately began to incorporate NC State talent. The Collegiate Design Competition is open to NC State students studying textiles or design. Each participant is given a pallet of colors he or she is allowed to use to make a six-by-six paisley pattern for a bow tie. Hill and her sons, who are co-owners of the store, then narrow the patterns down, leaving eight finalists. Finally, the general public will vote for its favorite finalist to select the winner.

“We really look for something that would make a good bow tie,” Hill said. “We take into account how hard the students work on the design.”

This year, more than 75 students entered the third annual contest. The finalists’ designs demonstrate their individual creativity. Lizzy Lawrence, a junior studying design, wanted to create a design that represented Raleigh. 

“I wanted my motif to be representative of Raleigh, so I included acorns for the City of Oaks, and cardinals, the North Carolina state bird,” Lawrence said. “I realized cardinals are kind of paisley shaped because of their crests, so that made it fun to incorporate.”

The winner of the competition will be announced on Friday at High Cotton’s First Friday event, and his or her design will be made into a bow tie for High Cotton’s spring line. 

“I’m really excited by the prospect of seeing something I worked hard to design come to life and sold at an actual store,” Lawrence said. “I keep thinking about how cool it would be to run into someone wearing my bow tie.” 

In addition to having his or her design incorporated in the spring line, the winner will receive $250 and the opportunity to show off his or her portfolio at the store. 

Win or lose, students are rewarded with the opportunity to develop their talent. 

“This is the first time that most students have the chance to practically apply what they have learned,” Hill said. “It makes them more marketable.”

The contest also helps students connect with the Raleigh community. The finalists get exposure to thousands of people who might otherwise never see their work.

“I think this competition is a great way of showcasing the great talents that NC State students have to offer, as well as connecting the college crowd with the Raleigh community,” said Sydney Jones, another finalist and a junior studying art and design