Outside her home in Berea on an overcast Tuesday afternoon, Kayla Gerkens, an 18-year-old sophomore at Eastern Kentucky University, sits in a chair and works away, applying a variety of colored dyes to a scrunched up white T-shirt.
The shirt has been pinched, folded and held by rubber bands in a way so that the shirt can achieve what she calls a “DNA style.”
As she applies the dyes to the shirt, her mother Denise Gerkens stands to the right holding a water hose for Kayla to use when she finishes using the dye. Denise Gerkens wears a tie dye shirt and tie dye pants as she helps.
“I’m a walking billboard,” Denise Gerkens remarks.
She’s a walking billboard for her daughter’s business, Dippy Hippie Tie Dyes. At 16, Kayla Gerkens began tie dying with some of her friends and found it enjoyable, she said, but the dye kits she was using were washing away too easily.
A professional dye kit replaced what she was using, and shortly after she took her first orders for her products. Then, she started selling her work at festivals, and earlier this summer she had a booth at the Lexington Pride Festival where she sold about 130 items.
Tie dye in 2016? Despite what some might think, Denise Gerkens said tie dying is becoming mainstream again..
“I know the first festival that we did, we were actually taken aback by the number of people that would walk by the booth and say, ‘Tie dye went out in the ’60s,” Denise Gerkens said.
Just last year, the publication “Fashionista” listed tie dyes as one of “The 13 Biggest Trends for Resort 2015.” And in May, the Business Professionals of America broke the world record of “the largest gathering of people wearing tie dye” at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass.
It appears tie dye is enjoying a bit of resurgence, and branching out past just T-shirts as Kayla Gerkens has demonstrated in her different products. In fact, the variety of products that she tie dyes is what sets her apart from others, Kayla Gerkens said.
“Shirts, pants, onesies, purses, skirts, dresses, underwear, socks, beanies, literally anything you think of I tie dye,” she said.
Prices of her products vary depending on the product and specific style. For example, a multi-dye DNA style shirt costs $18, a long sleeve for $25 or a pair of tie dye leggings cost $30.
The tie dying process takes place in various stages, Kayla Gerkens explained. First, she would take the product (a T-shirt in this instance) and soak it in soda ash in order to make the dye stick. Then she would put it in the washer to get the excess soda ash out.
Next, she twists and folds the shirt, binds it with rubber bands and applies the dye. After that it has to set out for 24 hours.
“Assuming it was a shirt, I could get it done in three days if I wasn’t insanely busy,” she said.
Another process she uses is called ice dying. The process begins the same, but after twisting and folding, she sets the dye powder directly on the item and puts ice cubes on it so the ice melts and transfers the dyes throughout the shirt. This process takes 48 hours.
A lot of the inspiration in her life, and for the business, comes from her parents’ hippie identity, Kayla Gerkens said.
“You know my parents being hippies, just trying to be good people,” she said. “Just really more one with nature and less focused on the hustle and bustle of life,” she explained.
Her mother likes the analogy, but explained she and her husband are not like the hippies of the 1960s and ’70s, but their lifestyle revolves around listening to music and going to festivals for the sole reason that it makes them happy.
Kayla Gerkens will have her product at the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival on Sept. 2-4 in Winchester; The Patchwork Music, Art & Unity Celebration on Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Nicholasville and the Mt. Sterling Court Days on Oct. 14-17.