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In Fashion, Tie-Dye Is the Great Democratizer

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Fashion is viewed through a multi-colored lens this summer, thanks to the rising popularity of tie-dye.

With influential designers like Stella McCartney, MSGM and Gucci giving tie-dye a go, and fast fashion retailers like Zara, Pull & Bear and Asos jumping on the psychedelic bandwagon, it’s clear consumers are embracing the nostalgic dye technique across all tiers. In fact, data from the shopping app Liketoknow.it revealed that searches for “tie-dye shirts” increased 900 percent from May to June this year, according to Harper’s Bazaar.

Even Starbucks introduced a limited-edition tie-dye Frappuccino this month to celebrate the peak of summer. The coffeehouse chain described the concoction as a “deliciously fruity” drink with “vibrant red, blue and yellow tie-dye swirls.”

Tie-dye has been on BPD Washhouse’s menu of services for several years, but owner Bill Curtin says special orders from brands have spiked in the past year and a half. “Tie-dye has been hot,” he said. “It’s the kind of phenomenon that is organic and took off on its own.”

This summer, J.Crew’s newly appointed head of women’s design, Chris Benz, tapped the Jersey City washhouse for a small run of T-shirts for a collaboration with New York-based brand La Ligne. “[Chris] wanted to do some local and homemade,” Curtin said, adding that the striped tie-dye shirt, which was featured in Vogue’s profile on Benz, subsequently sold out. A week later, Tommy Hilfiger approached BPD for its pop-up in New York’s “Hipster Hamptons” Rockaway Beach, where Curtin said they provided tie-dye underwear, socks, shirts and bags.

To better accommodate the industry’s interest in tie-dye, BPD has added the dye technique to the curriculum of its Denim 101 and garment dye courses.

“Everyone loves it. It’s a very cool project to do because no matter what your talent is, you can make a tie-dye that’s personal to you,” Curtin said. “And the washhouse is a great atmosphere to do it because tie-dye is a nice adjunct to denim.”

He’s also mulling over the idea of weekend tie-dye courses for non-industry tie-dye enthusiasts while the trend is still buzzing

Curtin estimates the tie-dye craze “probably has another season or two,” adding that new permutations of doing a tie-dye that are emerging, “I think that once that gets exhausted, then you might see some of the newness of it fade away and it might start to cool down,” he said.

While fashion may be approaching peak tie-dye, new colorations and untraditional garments will help the trend live beyond summer 2019.

“One way to make tie-dye feel new is to do it on unexpected things,” Curtin said. Thinking beyond basics T-shirts and bandanas, BPD has started to deconstruct and tie-dye pieces of garments, like the stained front pocket of a button-down shirt. This approach, he added, also provides a creative way to upcycle garments that would otherwise be discarded.

“Don’t buy, DIY,” serves as the slogan for Tie Dye High Five, a London-based tie-dye workshop. The workshop’s services span team building workshops and pop-up brand activations, to product collaborations. The company has tie-dyed with the likes of Vans and Converse. “As long as there is a water source, we can pop up anywhere,” said founder Hannah Bailey.

The idea for Tie Dye High Five was born out of Bailey’s own efforts to stretch her wardrobe. “I was taking my old white T-shirts that were looking a bit dull and tie-dyeing them,” she told Rivet. “Not only did I feel good about crafting and creating, but I also felt like I could go back into my wardrobe and make something new.”

Today, the company serves as a “creative community crafting against fast fashion by encouraging people to tap into their creativity and upcycle old garments into something new through tie-dye.” Fast fashion, Bailey added, has led consumers to lose personal connections with their clothes. “And because of that, clothes have become disposable,” she said.

At Tie Dye High Five’s workshops, creators are asked to bring in old garments to rework through simply tie-dyeing techniques.

“People leave the workshops feeling very proud of what they’ve made,” Bailey said. “People feel connected to the piece of clothing and are more likely to look after it, which ends up helping the environment.”

And the appeal of tie-dye is ageless. Tie Dye High Five has teamed with the London children’s hospital Great Ormond Street to put on color therapy events for the young patients. Tie-dye has become a popular team building activity in the corporate world. Tie Dye High Five has hosted events for companies like WeWork and creative agencies during their sustainability-themed weeks. “It’s something everyone can relate to,” Bailey said. “I don’t think of it as a trend. It’s much more a mentality.”

And with tie-dye, anything goes.

“It’s definitely not about being a professional artist,” Bailey said. “Tie-dye is an accessible way to be creative.”

That’s how Jeremy Carlson, owner of A Brighter World in Santa Cruz, Calif., became hooked on tie-dye. The tie-dye artist and retailer dipped his toes in the dye technique 32 years ago when he began to create tie-dye bandanas to sell at Grateful Dead concerts.

“I’ve always found tie-dye to be colorful and happy. And it worked financially,” Carlson said. “We had a place to sell and we got to see the shows.”

Carlson’s tie-dye business evolved over time. For a while he would tie-dye clothing during the winter to sell at summer festivals around the country. Then in 2012, he opened his tie-dye studio and store, A Brighter World. “It was the first store in the country where you could make your own tie-dye,” he said.

There, Carlson tie-dyes and sells items like T-shirts, bandanas and socks, as well as less conventional items like berets, chef hats and towels.

“It’s interesting seeing tie-dye on the runway this year,” he said. “It wasn’t just ombré or one-tone. It was a rainbow-colored crinkled dress in silk and I’m like, ‘Cool, I’ve had that in my store for years. It’s about time.’”

One advantage of the current tie-dye fashion trend that bodes well for tie-dye enthusiasts, he added, is how its making consumers more aware of the differences between printed tie-dye and the real deal. “It’s like buying a Mercedes emblem and sticking it on my little VW,” he said about the imposter. “It doesn’t make it a Mercedes.”

While the studio is a hit with 6- to 14-year-old children, Carlson says every age walks through his doors. A customer who hosted his 50th birthday at the studio last summer said it was the most fun he had at a birthday in a long time, Carlson recalled. A teenager recently tie-dyed a silk scarf for her grandmother. And he recently hosted an event at Google, where 350 tech employees tie-dyed a bandana in three hours.

The same way that adult color books and paint-by-number canvases came into popularity several years ago, tie-dye offers adults a mental break from “adulting.”

“It really blows them away has to how much fun they have,” Carlson said. “With tie-dye, you get to play.”

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