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Last year, Sir Darius Brown, a teenager from Newark, New Jersey, received the prestigious Global Child Prodigy Award for his work helping animals in shelters. Previously, he had become an ambassador to the ASPCA, and even before that, he’d received a letter of commendation from then President Barack Obama.
These are breathtaking overachievements, especially when you consider that less than 10 years before that, Brown was struggling to surmount his disabilities: speech, comprehension, and fine motor-skills delays. “It was really hard for me to participate in normal day-to-day things. It was hard for me to tie shoe laces or [write] with a pencil,” the now 16-year old Brown tells The Wildest. “Some people might tell me certain things, and it’ll be hard for me to comprehend.”
What he did have was an abundance of curiosity. His sister had started making hair bows for women. And Brown, intrigued, wanted to help. “There were a good amount of times when she was hesitant because of my motor skills. She didn’t want me to get injured on the sewing machine,” he says. “So, my mom suggested that I start off by cutting the fabric first.”
Over time, Brown would learn how to make bow ties, his style staple. Then, after learning about the plight of animals after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, he switched to creating bow ties for orphaned dogs and cats — he named his company Beaux & Paws — in an attempt to make them more (aesthetically) adoptable. It worked.
Today, Brown, who now exclusively makes bow ties for animals, donates one bow tie to a shelter for each one sold on his website. He also created Pawsome Mission, a fundraising initiative to help shelters, for which he has raised more than $300,000. And he has a new book out, Project PAWsome: Saving Shelter Pets One Bow Tie at a Time. We caught up with the very busy Brown, who’s still making bow ties when he’s not doing homework, to talk about everything from his unconditional love for pets to how he got that “Sir” before his name.
Whenever I think of the pinnacle of bow-tie style, I think of NBA players.
Yes! Actually speaking of basketball players, one of my mentors, his name is Allan Houston [the former Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks All-Star], also wears one of my bow ties as well.
How does your business work? Like, you make a bow tie for a human and donate some of the money to animal charities?
Right now, because I have a really pet-loving audience, I just focus on making bow ties for pets, which I love doing. And I continue giving out and donating my bow ties to different animal shelters. And I also do some monetary donations.
How do you decide which shelters you’re going to help?
I would say it depends on where I’m at. If I’m home in New Jersey, I do have really close relationships with local animal shelters. But if I’m in different states…like, when I was in Chicago, I’ll go to PAWS Chicago. Or if I’m in New York, I’ll go to Animal Haven. But I don’t really like picking and choosing. People DM me and send me requests all the time. “Can you please send donations to such-and-such animal shelter?” So, I just ship them out to different animal shelters.
Do you also volunteer?
As much as I wanted to, you had to be a certain age to volunteer. But now because I'm [older], I was able to volunteer at Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter, and it was a great, amazing time. It was my first time ever volunteering. I felt more of a bond or love for animals, which was already huge.
What do you personally get from being around animals?
Animals are really loving and caring. A dog is a person’s number-one best friend...Even when you go to animal shelters and have conversations with the staff, they will all advocate that they are super-protective of the people that look out for them.
Dogs will never betray you, and they’re always going to be by your side. Seeing that one on one makes me jealous, because I want a dog so bad, but I can’t. Unfortunately, where I’m [living], I cannot have any more pets. But hopefully we’re going to move very soon, and I’ll have a dog of my own. I would love, love, love, love, love to have a Dachshund or Pomeranian.
How did watching hurricane coverage affect what you do?
The reason why I pivoted from making bow ties for people to [making them for] dogs…I remember we were watching TV during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. And there were a lot of bad things going on. I remember that Puerto Rico was hit. Texas was hit. A lot of different places were hit by the storm. I saw people getting help — and I was glad they were getting help — but I wondered how come there weren’t any animals?
Then, a week later, I saw there were some animals being transported from Texas to New York, impacted by Hurricane Harvey and Irma. I was making bow ties [at the time], and people would send me amazing comments, because I used to wear my bow ties in public. I thought, “You know what? If I get positive feedback, what happens if a dog or cat receives a bow tie, and that raises more attention?” There’s going to be more people adopting them, because you normally dont see a dog or a cat wearing a bow tie. So, I donated my first set of bow ties to the ASPCA.
Did people think this would work?
At first it was like, “That is cute, what you’re doing.” But afterwards, when they actually saw that people were wanting to adopt, more specifically, dogs with bow ties, they wanted me to come back to donate more.
You also have “wag bags” for shelters. How does that work?
Last year at Christmas, I created wag bags, and these wag bags had bow ties, different pet treats, pet essentials, poop bags, play toys. Different small cute things to help relieve the stress of animal shelters and rescue groups from having all those dogs and worrying, “How am I going to feed this dog?” or “We don’t have enough supplies for this.”
You’ve received so many accolades and awards. Which one are you most proud of?
I will say the letter I received from President Barack Obama was really emotional for me. I remember that day. I am eternally grateful for receiving a letter from a person of his stature. It really inspired me to help dogs more and motivate people more because this shows that no matter what you look like or who you are, you can always achieve greatness and success. He pretty much explained, “Don’t lose sight of what you are given, continue what you’re doing.”
No wonder there is a “Sir” before your name.
Honestly, the “Sir” came from family and friends. It was my nickname. People were already calling me that, but I feel like what I’m doing now for the pets…with the “Sir,” I’m a guardian for the pets. I’m protecting them, helping save their lives.
Do you have a strategy for where you want to go to help? Like, are you paying attention to natural disasters?
I remember there was that disaster in Australia [the huge fire which burned 24.3 million hectares] with all the koalas and whatnot. I was doing a lot of different creations. I made a skirt and a hat and a collar, for dogs participating in the New York Pet Fashion Show. The wildfires were around this time, and I wanted to make mittens to help koalas with burned hands. I donated, I think, like 200 or 300 to an organization. But to answer your question, I do look at different current events that are happening in the world. And oftentimes people DM me, or they send me to different animal shelters in different places to help.
What’s your plan after you graduate high school?
I am looking to go to college. People always expect me to want to become a veterinarian or go into some animal-type stuff. I love helping pets, but sometimes [vets have to] do extreme things. And that’s going to traumatize me to some extent. So I do want to go to college for business or some kind of law.
After college, I plan on continuing my business to help dogs and cats around the world, creating more of an initiative. I’m starting off with this book, actually. It’s called Project PAWsome: Saving Shelter Pets One Bow Tie at a Time. The book pretty much covers my mission and my journey, and different adoption stories. It’s about the different ways that you can help and support your local animal shelters. And actually anyone interested in learning how I make the bow ties, it includes step-by-step instructions.
You mentioned you did show at the New York Pet Fashion Show. Does that mean you’re designing entire pet wardrobes now?
Right now, I do not do that because that takes a lot of time. I remember for the show, it took me two to three months just to make the garments alone! And that was small compared to what other people were doing. And I don’t really do custom garments or whatnot. I’m not there yet, but hopefully soon.
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Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.