Left: Jonah Hill by Say Cheese!/GC Images. Center: Adwoa Aboah by Dave Benett/Getty Images for Miu Miu. Right: Bad Bunny by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella. 

why is everyone still obsessed with tie-dye?

i-D talks to an expert about how individualism, sustainability, and high-fashion have popularized the iconic print.

by Laura Pitcher
17 May 2019, 4:14pm

Left: Jonah Hill by Say Cheese!/GC Images. Center: Adwoa Aboah by Dave Benett/Getty Images for Miu Miu. Right: Bad Bunny by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella. 

However partial you are to a tie-dye t-shirt, there’s no denying that we’re in the middle of a tie-dye renaissance.

Once reserved for scumbro skaters, hippies, and Jonah Hill, tie-dye has made its way onto the runways of high-fashion brands Proenza Schouler, Prada, and Eckhaus Latta, and into the hearts of, what feels like, all supermodels on Instagram. Plus, Beyoncé wore it to the beach.

If scrunchies and fanny packs have taught us anything, it’s that we will be buying and then retiring the many different outfits we had as a child until we die. But of all the re-occurring trends, tie-dying seems the most resilient. From Woodstock in the ‘60s to counter-culture movements through the ‘80s, tie-dye is the one call we will almost never decline — arguably at a cost to our own self-pride.

According to Kavita Kumari, a specialist print and dye technician at London College of Fashion, tie-dye’s current re-emergence can be attributed to a combination of influences. Including, but not limited to, the need to express individualism in the current saturated but limited market, a heightened recognition for sustainability, its acceptance into high-fashion, and modern digital print allowing it to become relevant again.

i-D spoke more with Kavita Kumari about our polarized and wavering obsession with all things tie-dye.

When did you become interested in fashion and textiles?
I've always had exposure to fashion, clothing, and a sewing machine. My affiliation with the arts came at a very young age. I grew up around a mother who is a seamstress and sisters of which one, in particular, was hugely obsessed with fashion. I myself had always been into the arts and was able to develop areas of my creativity through a Foundation Degree specializing in Textiles and, later, a Bachelor’s degree in Textile Design.

From your experience, how does people's relationship with tie-dying compare with other print and dye types?
Tie-dye is a craft-based practice that has been around for centuries. Its familiarity makes it easily relatable. If you think tie-dye, you naturally think the ‘60s and ‘70s hippie chic, the era of freedom, peace, love, and harmony. The opportunity to adorn yourself and express yourself through colors, flowers, face-paint, and tie-dye was fairly easy to achieve without any specific or professional equipment, it's inexpensive and enjoyable to do.

Why do you think we are seeing the re-emergence now?
The current re-birth of tie-dye derives from its popularity in high-end couture. Since high fashion had transitioned conventional craft-based tie-dye into digital print, it has changed which has allowed regeneration of interest in tie-dye. It’s also most definitely a derivative of emulating celebrities like Bella and Gigi Hadid. Fashion has always been very much something that is followed through influence and has even more so become followed through social media.

The process can be traced back to cultures such as in India, do you think it could be considered cultural appropriation?
Tie-dye definitely lends itself to cultural appropriation, which makes it even more enriching. India has it's the traditional style of tie-dye better known as 'bandhani' which translated literally means 'to bind, to tie', and globally there are other variations of tie-dye from all over the world, for example, Shibori from Japan.

It's often thought of as sustainable. But how earth-friendly would the tie-dye prints from chain brands actually be?
In a meeting earlier this week I captioned that 'Sustainability doesn't actually exist in fashion and textiles, what we have is an awareness'. However, it would depend on the resources that are being used to dye and the source from which the fabrics have been acquired. If your t-shirt is purchased from Primark, that may not be so sustainable in relation to ethics, dyeing, waste material, and environmental impact. So that question remains open to discussion.

Do you yourself wear tie-dye?
No, I don't, purely because western tie-dye doesn't really appeal to me, but I have worn traditional bandhani tie-dye.

How long should we be expecting this trend to stick around?
I don't believe that tie-dye is ever likely to fade away completely because it's too accessible. I think it will be around forever.

Jonah Hill