Tucked away in Livonia’s industrial neighborhood, a light-filled warehouse space houses the magical workshop of Brightly Twisted. The floors are sprinkled with splashes of color, bright gauzy scarves rustle on numerous racks, and bundles of fabric soak in tubs of richly hued dyes. This warehouse is where the born-and-bred Michigan artists, Tammy and Greg, have brought their dreams into existence, whipping up the tie-dyed creations that we can’t seem to get enough of.
The Michigan based company produces one-of-a-kind pieces, a breath of fresh air in a marketplace saturated with mass-produced goods. Influenced by traditional tie-dying techniques, Brightly Twisted employs their own unique and thoroughly modern approach of dying to create upscale women’s clothing, accessories, and home goods. For 9 years the company operated out of Greg’s basement, until Tammy joined him in 2006. Together, they refined and perfected their dying techniques. Today, the company is a nationally recognized design and dye company, selling in hundreds of stores across the globe.
I was lucky enough to spend a gorgeous Saturday morning at the Livonia studio with the incredibly sweet Tammy. For a few golden hours, I was immersed into the world of Brightly Twisted. I learned about their distinctive design process, heard about Greg and Tammy’s incredible journey from schoolteachers to creative designers of a successful company, and got a sneak peak into what the future holds for Brightly Twisted. I even got my hands dirty with a little tie-dye experimentation of my own!
Read our one-on-one interview with Tammy to get your own glimpse into the charmed world of Brightly Twisted!
So I’m really wondering, what does your typical day look like?
We start at around 7:30. There are 4 of us that come in and start the rinse, which means everything we dyed the night before, we are rinsing. The office people come in and start accruing what we have to ship for the day, and the processor comes in about an hour later, when things are just getting out of the drier. She works on tagging, looking for flaws, ironing, and packing. We ship about 75 to 100 pieces a day!
Wow that’s a lot of pieces! From start to finish, when you are making one piece, how long does it usually take?
It’s tricky; we’ve tried to figure that out, because it’s done in little chunks. You soak a scarf for 15 minutes, then you twist the scarf, which takes about 8 minutes, and you do about 10 at a time. You manipulate the fabric and rubber band it. Then you go over and dye each one, which can take anywhere from 5-8 minutes. The next step is soaking them overnight and you finally rinse them the next morning. So we think it takes about 45 minutes a scarf.
What’s the design process-how do you choose your colors? Do you usually have something in mind before you begin a piece?
Each of us does it differently. We’ve talked about that before, I don’t know what I’m going to do as far as color; I know the designs I want to do.
We typically repeat many of the same designs using varying colors, but we experiment each day. Particularly on Fridays, when we’re not in mass-production, we try new things with the fabric.
Are you ever surprised by what turns out?
Always! Everyday is something new! We don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s a mystery behind dying, and that’s the part we like. You can control it too, but you have to be very precise. I like the unusualness of it and trying to see what happens if I try something new.
Yea! That’s exciting! It makes every piece unique.
Tammy: Yes, exactly. And I tend to get very bored easily, that’s my personality, so with this job that never happens!
I’m the same, that’s great! So, when you first started were you dying apparel or just scarves?
Our wholesale business was in scarves, and at art fairs we always did clothing, we never did scarves. We did women’s clothes primarily, because it’s usually women who attend art fairs with their children, so we made children’s clothes too. We also made t-shirts for men.
I wore a scarf at a trade show in Vegas, and a sales rep saw it and really liked it. That’s when we started doing wholesale with the scarves. Which is great, because it’s one size, one product, and that allowed us to learn how to manufacture and get into the wholesale business. Now we have about 5 scarves that we make, and we usually add about 3 new ones every season. So we’ll be offering 8 this winter!
Do you still make children’s clothes?
Yes! They’re really cute. We sell them wholesale, so we only sell them out of here, or for friends, or online. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
So, yes we sold clothes. But we never sewed them. We bought anything cotton or rayon or silk that you can dye on.
So those are the 3 materials you use?
Yes, they have to be natural because of the type of dye we use.
So each piece is one of a kind. I know Greg, your husband, taught you the technique, but where did he pick up it up?
He’s self-taught; he looked at books from the library and videos. He’s a teacher so he knew how to teach himself! I like to be taught. I like someone to show me how to do things, but he likes to figure it out himself.
How many years did it take to build up his methods?
Well, I’ve looked at some of his old things, and it was much more similar to traditional tie-dyes with those bright blues, reds, yellow, and purples. But then he started playing with color more. He has an innate ability to make beautiful women’s clothes, but he’s not into fashion at all! He’s an artist and his clothes portray color in a way that I have not seen tie-dye do before.
So I learned from him, and we taught Emily and Zack, who each have their own way of doing it now. We teach the next person coming in what we know and then we’ll leave them alone and they usually come up with something amazing. We give them the skills as a foundation and then they grow on their own.
So you give them room to blossom on their own.
Yes! That’s all they need to come up with something great!
Where do you envision the tie-dye going in the future? Do you picture it just staying in apparel and fashion or do you picture taking it somewhere else?
Yes! I’ve always had a really big thought about it. Let me tell you how it started.It was one of those Aha! moments, and you don’t get many in your lire, where you are just positive that you see something or you know you are right. I’ve had 3 in all of my life! This one was when I didn’t know how to tie-dye yet, but I did a favor for Greg and sold for him at the Ann Arbor art fair. I noticed at the art fair, right away, people were coming out of the woodwork, looking for his dresses that he had tie-dyed. The dress body wasn’t even nice! It was just a plain dress, but the dye was so beautiful. There were so many people looking for him, I thought, this is something, this is not the normal selling. There was a frenzy about it! I observed that at all the fairs I started working at, that people were really drawn to the work that he did. I figured out that it was the one-of-a-kind appeal. Each person was trying to present their own identity in what they were wearing or choosing.
I saw it more as art than necessarily as fashion. When they wanted to wholesale the scarves, I had a feeling that it would create quite an impact in the world of tie-dye. And it did!
I’d like for when you hear Brightly Twisted, for you to know what you are getting: -tie-dye clothes, the best that you can probably get anywhere.
So I do see it expanding. We’ve printed it onto pillows and fabrics already. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t move into upholstery and maybe dishes. I’d love to see it printed on pottery. It would be beautiful.
That sounds amazing. I’d love to have a whole set of tie-dye dishes!
Wouldn’t that be cool! All mix and match, but with the same color palette!
Sounds dreamy. How long do you think you will stay in this space for? It’s so huge!
I don’t see us leaving, primarily because of the landlord. He’s so easy to work with. I could see us expanding, and moving into Detroit as well, but that would be with more growth, rather than us leaving here.
Okay! I really can’t wait to see what comes next for you guys!
A final thank you to Tammy for your time. I had so much fun exploring Brightly Twisted with you!
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