Tie & Dye: A rennaissance of the cult favourite

by Anjori Grover Vasesi

18-June-2019  |  15 mins read

The past season saw an outbreak of the ’60s and ’70s cult favourite – the tie and dye technique, coming to the fore with runways and retail shelves being replete with the traditional print.

If you skim through the pages of fashion history, you’d find points wherein it coincides with culture – and among them would be the mammoth effect tie and dye has had over socio-political precincts.

Synonymous with the ’60s flower power era and the hippie movement from the ’70s, the technique evokes freedom, rebellion and nostalgia. And just as every trend in fashion has a back story to it, so does this free-spirited pattern.

At the outset, tie and dye sprouted as an expression of defiance amongst an environment of political unrest when Nixon was in power, with students protesting against a conservative right – come 2019, and we have Trump in the White House, arousing similar retorts from women, immigrants and the LGBTQ community for their rights. Peaceful, yet defiant, the print has been adopted by countless designers on the Spring/Summer 2019 runway as a way to express freedom and individuality.

According to global fashion search platform Lyst, tie and dye is one of the fastest growing fashion trend keywords of the year, so far!

Runway Report

Surpassing conventional methods of using the technique, modern day iterations are not only limited to T-shirts or dresses. High fashion labels such as Prada, Proenza Schouler, Chloé, Balmain and MSGM, have embraced and reintroduced the trend in a big way. Designers are utilising the technique in unconventional methods such as watercolour tie and dyes over tights and sweaters at Hillary Taymour’s Collina Strada, splashes across puffer jackets at Shoreditch Ski Club, oversized T-shirt dresses in pastels at Stella McCartney, wool jumpers at Balmain, tie and dye over denim at Proenza Schouler and skirts and dresses at Prada.

The palettes are stark and contrasting – converting the technique into more of a print than a blended fusion of various shades. It is traditional, but contemporary at the same time.

For Amrich’s Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandva, who have commercially been doing shibori for more than twelve years, tie and dye techniques have potential in terms of creating newness as they allow one to redo certain old or leftover textiles which haven’t been used, thus having great environmental impact.

“Since we as designers get bored of seeing the same textile technique being used in the same format, we try bringing some novelty and newness to it. We are doing a lot of stitch shibori, and we work on a lot of fabric manipulation in terms of pleating and geometric folding which traditionally we would use for clamp dying but nowadays we also take it into stitching- stitch resist as well as machine stitch resist. This gives a lot of textural value to textiles and you can play with it making it graphic or making it subtle; it allows us to be more experimental as designers,” Amit told AR on a call.

Mindful Fashion

The revival of the tie and dye is also the industry’s clear reaction to the surmounting concerns surrounding sustainable and mindful fashion. As the concern grows, so does an appeal for handspun and handcrafted fashion, ethical sourcing and manufacturing practices and transparency in fashion cycles.

In a place like India, people really identify with and appreciate craft. Shibori has always been a mainstay – these designs are the fastest to fly off the rack, whether it’s textural, whether it’s bold; people tend to relate to it, – Amit, Amrich Designs

As consumers become more conscious of disposable and fast fashion, brands and designers seek avenues to reduce the carbon footprint by owning responsibility to limit the damage caused by the industry. Brands such as Ninety Percent, Amrich and Gabriella Hearst incorporate organic fabrics, natural dyes within their collections besides, working with artisan clusters for this unique print pattern.

On the contrary, Indian exporters feel that this is the very reason why the demand for tie and dye is limited to beachwear majorly. Vimal Shah, from Goodwill Impex Ltd., corroborated on the same by telling AR, “International norms have become very stringent in terms of quality and compliance – colour fasteners and AZO are mandatory. Colour bleeding is a by-product of the traditional tie and dye method, so there aren’t many takers of it in the industry today. In pieces such as the typical indigo looks, there is a major issue of colour fasteners but a buyer who deals in such a product is aware of this and further sells it accordingly. He highlights it as a character of the product and understands that the merchandise will react in a certain manner.”

According to Vimal, modern day dyeing methods have developed the technique in such a way that it allows manufacturers to control bleeding issues to a certain extent. He added, “But you would come across certain buyers who are adamant about colour fastening and look for a perfect piece which is not possible from the traditional dyeing method.”

Hand-Dyeing Versus Print Methods

In the ’60s and ’70s, tie and dye became a symbol of individuality and creative expression granting it cult status. What makes tie and dye so special is its individuality. The traditional process of hand dyeing ensures that no two pieces are ever the same – the result is always unexpected. But the nature of the method has raised several questions on the end quality of such products.

Ravi Poddar, Cheer Sagar, Jaipur, said, “As far as compliances are concerned, nowadays buyers are very demanding and finicky, so there isn’t much of a demand for tie and dye as of today. If one comes across any hazardous chemicals such as AZO content, you risk rejection. This is a dominating factor for slow demand of the tie and dye technique. And because of the quality parameters going so high, instead of the traditional hand dyeing technique, buyers are opting for printed versions. Furthermore, production limitation is also an issue which is related to the size of orders.” He further added, “Designers are converting the technique into prints and are doing similar tie and dye patterns.

It’s a fashion thing. In two years, you would see a great demand and then you will experience a dry spell, you see a gap in between. – Ravi Poddar, Cheer Sagar, Jaipur

Validating the above statement, Amit chimed in, “These days, we see a lot of people doing digital prints of shibori. Because of digital printing processes, life becomes easier but at the same time it kills creativity, as the hand feel goes away- the beauty and nuances of the technique when you hand dye it – all of that is lost.”

Vimal upheld the statement by saying, “In print, you need minimum quantity, and it also gives a very flat look – there’s no creativity in it. Colour accuracy is there, big brands generally opt for machine printed versions but the main issue that arises is that of order quantities.”

Craft Revival

Tie and dye, like many other ancient Indian crafts, has seen a downfall in the past two decades. Many active initiatives from the Government and industry have put in considerable efforts to revive the indigenous technique.

Amrich deploys only natural fibres and 95 per cent of the textiles they work with are handloom and handwoven, sourced from and developed at clusters around the country. “We are working a lot with cotton and silk cotton and are interested in exploring hemp textiles,” informed Amit.

“A lot of the weaving happens in Bengal and Madhya Pradesh – we have been working with these two locations from the very beginning. But from the last one and a half years, we have also been working with Bihar for the revival of their weaving technique. We are using a lot of their khadi, tassar silks, etc,” averred Amit.

He further added, “On the contrary, if we take the bulk manufacturing side into consideration, the story is quite gloomy. Even today, if you step out to visit one of the sites where tie and dye is done, you would see it happening in the small, confined areas with little to no distinction in the way of practising the technique.”

Ravi acknowledged the same saying, “These people have limited resources, and they don’t want to spend on factory upgradation or skill development, which is a huge setback – you have to upgrade with time which is not happening in India. They are practising the same old technique in small unorganised areas and are not upgrading their factories or system.”

Upon asking Ravi how the issue can be tackled, he commented saying, “It can be organised provided the volume is there, and that kind of business is coming in. Manufacturers are not ready to upgrade and spend that kind of money because they are not getting enough business out of it. It’s a viscous circle. In exports, often times something is big in fashion, and then it fizzles out and you find something else that’s in demand – it’s a tough call where to start and where to end.”

Trend Versus Demand

As is the case with any other recurring trend in fashion, tie and dye has also undergone a renaissance – acid washes and bright tones have transformed tie and dye from its ’60s and ’70s psychedelia. Colours such as bright blue, orange, pink, green are trending and experimental shapes over elevated fabrics have made the technique more appealable and fashion forward.

Validating the same, Elizabeth von der Goltz, Net-a-Porter’s global buying director told Vogue that, “It was a huge trend that we saw both on and off the runway and we embraced it from a wide variety of brands,” adding, “T-shirts were our key item; I think the Ibiza degrade at Chloé, the purple tie-dye at Paco Rabanne, a bright and vibrant version at R13 and Stella McCartney’s oversized T-shirt dresses in pastel colours were the key standout pieces.”

Vimal, on the other hand, hasn’t observed any major demand on the export side. “A few buyers who do regular business with tie and dye, are the only ones who have sent us enquiries for the technique. I have few enquiries, not too many- and the ones that we have got are mostly for beachwear – such as kimonos, cover-ups, etc. There has been no enquiry in dailywear or tops.” He added, “Every year it sells and especially in beachwear – it has been a staple and it will always sell in this category. I feel it isn’t there in the main line that much but it is definitely there in beachwear. But we are hopeful, after seeing the recent runways, that it will come into play in the next six months.”

On the fabric front, Ravi stated that cottons and rayon, or cotton and rayon blends are mainly being used for prints. “Rayon becomes weak, when it is wet. Chances of damage are more, so the percentage and chances of rejection go up,” he said.

Amrich has been known to work a lot with the black and white palette in their collections, but for the coming season, the designer duo is opting for combinations such as red and grey, blue and beige, yellow and grey, etc. The duo also revealed an exciting collaborative project that they’d be undertaking in the coming months. “Mixing art with functionality, we are planning on experimenting with tie and dye and shibori techniques over furniture. For the one-of-its-kind project, we have collaborated with a friend of ours who’s into furniture and interiors. We are past our initial sampling and would be able to divulge further details in the coming weeks.”

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