Alex Hart-Upendo of Racine learned how to make his first bow tie around the age of five. Now, at the ripe age of 12, Hart runs a successful business, Build-a-Bow, and uses it to advocate against bullying.
“Bow ties are so cool and awesome,” Hart-Upendo said. “I like to let loose my creative side.”
Build-a-Bow is a custom bow tie retailer offering products such as custom bow-ties, hair bows and pet bows — Hart also offers bark bows for dogs. In addition, Build-a-Bow also services special events where Hart-Upendo provides attendees with materials and instruction to make their bow ties and hair bows but Build-a-Bow is more than just fun bow designs.
“I don’t want people to focus on just the bow tie portion, but the bullying part of the story,” he said.
Hart-Upendo tested as gifted at age five, his IQ higher than most children in his age group. He started Build-a-Bow LLC when he was nine. He was unique, which also led to isolation and bullying. Hart-Upendo said he shares his experiences with autism, bullying and other challenges in life to let other kids know it’s okay to be different.
“I actually have a class in California that follows and supports me,” he said.
This year he was chosen to receive Racine’s 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Service Award.
“I’ve learned a lot of things about entrepreneurship, like being kind,” Hart-Upendo said.
Through his kindness and message, Hart-Upendo hopes to make a difference in how people treat each other. He also said his peers have warmed up to him after he started his business; everyone wants to be friends with him now.
“My teachers said it was really amazing what I was doing,” Hart-Upendo said.
The 12-year-old social entrepreneur keeps himself busy. A normal weekday for Hart-Upendo includes waking up at 5 a.m., processing orders, going to school and coming back home to process more orders before doing homework. Hart-Upendo said he never gets tired because he loves making bow ties and sharing his work with others.
“Now, I want to share my story with other kids being bullied that they’re not alone. We stand together,” he said.
He said he wants people to feel happy, one bow tie at a time. Hart-Upendo also published a book titled “Bullies, Bowties And Brilliant Alex,” a multicultural picture book inspiring the inner entrepreneur in children. His endeavors attracted the attention of Ellen, Steve Harvey, Harry Connick and ABC Shark Tank.
“I actually just did a commercial with US Cellular,” Hart-Upendo said.
Everything he does revolves around bringing others happiness. Hart-Upendo’s parents continue to support each step of the way. He called them both caring and supportive.
“My parents are a huge part of my operation. Without them, my company doesn’t run. While I’m at school my parents are packaging boxes, doing deliveries, scheduling events, doing quality checks, processing mail and helping to keep my manufacturing studio clean,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Alex Hart-Upendo was awarded the Martin Luther King Civil Service Award in a ceremony in Racine on Saturday, January 12.