It’s safe to say there are two very different sides to Christopher Chaun Bennett, a 31-year-old man who spends his days cleaning the Jubilee Christian Church just outside of Boston, where he’s a janitor and also worships.
But in his free time, you can find Bennett hard at work at home in the apartment he shares with his mother, crouched over an industrial sewing machine in the makeshift workshop set up about three feet from his bed. He's crafting high-end bow ties that have landed him in British Vogue and earned him celebrity clients like Beyoncé and Ronnie Hillman of the Denver Broncos.
At the church, people are often shocked to learn about Bennett’s other life in fashion.
“'Surprised' would be an understatement,” he told TODAY of the typical reaction he gets from fellow churchgoers. “They’re kind of dumbfounded. Like, what in the world are you doing here? And it’s true that I could be elsewhere. But it’s not where I was led to go.”
Bennett’s journey in fashion started in 2009 while he was pursuing an acting career. He attended a party in Boston for an independent film he had starred in, and was searching for a particular accessory he thought would tie his outfit together: a raw denim bow tie.
But after visiting a number of shops in the city, he still couldn't find one. “So I decided, you know what, I’ll make it," he said. "I went to the fabric store downtown and got some denim fabric and a small $4 button-repair sewing kit. And I went home and looked at a silk bow tie I had and said, I can make this. I just pulled out a pair of scissors and went to work.”
That bow tie was a hit, and so was a second one, oversized and made from vinyl with lace overlay and netting. This one prompted a stranger to approach him on the street — a man who became Bennett’s first customer.
More Style Tips videos
From choker sweaters to cold shoulders, how to pull off your teen’s style
Here’s how to get Blake Lively’s signature red carpet ‘do
Ready in a Snap: How to fold a shirt in 2 seconds
Bold earrings, bell sleeves: See the latest style trends (and how to rock them)
Bennett later moved to New York City to pursue fashion and his line, Christopher Chaun, while also working on the floor at Valentino and Ralph Lauren. He returned to Boston a few years ago to help take care of his mother, who’d been burned in an accident. While Bennett’s bow ties — handmade from tweed, jewel-colored silks or lambskin leather with unique accents — sell for around $200 to $500 on his website, the profits from his line aren’t enough to live on, he said.
“Obviously income is one of the largest issue most artists encounter,” Bennett said. “I wanted to keep sitting there and making bow ties, but it wasn’t bringing in the kind of income I needed to take care of myself. So I prayed. I got on my knees and said, I need some kind of additional income.”
The next day, Bennett said, he went to an early morning prayer service at Jubilee Christian Church and learned the church was looking for new maintenance staff.
“I thought, OK, here’s the job I was just praying about,” he said. “I didn’t take it immediately. But I did come to my senses and I went back, and I took the job.”
Bennett, who’s now worked at the church for about 15 months, admits it’s not glamorous work: “I’m cleaning restrooms, vacuuming, mopping, doing setups for events and meetings,” he said. “There’s plenty to do, always.”
But for the up-and-coming designer, it’s a pairing that works — at least for now.
“I know it’s just a step for me, and I won’t be here very long,” he said.
In the meantime, the job allows him plenty of flexibility to pursue his real passion.
“This place has been nothing short of extremely supportive,” Bennett said. “They believe in my journey. Whenever I need to go to New York, I get time off. If I need to stop and take an interview, the executive pastor gives me his office.”
Bennett plans to expand his line to include apparel and more accessories, starting with a robe and a handbag.
As for Bennett himself, he still wears bow ties and loves experimenting with his personal style, but not while he’s on the clock as a janitor.
“I wear gym clothes to work!” he said.