On any given day, one might spot a guy adorned in a vibrant pink and blue lava lamp-like T-shirt with a matching bucket hat riding his bike. The next day, he may be wearing a kaleidoscope pattern of blended yellows, pinks and blues; exploding purple, green and blue fireworks; or maybe red, blue and black galactic swirls.
Dan Lambert, a senior communication studies major, has become the notable “Tie-Dye Dan.” What used to be a hobby with a fan base of just friends has now made him a profit with international buyers. He realized that he wanted a job that he actually enjoyed doing, rather than working at Chipotle with hours that he didn’t like. Not being a business major wasn’t a concern for him to start a business.
“Plenty of people aren’t business majors and are blowing business majors out of the water,” Lambert said. “It’s mostly, I think, how you interface with people and how you get them to remember you. And I just [want to] be the smiling face associated with positivity and sunshine and love and happy music and stuff.”
Lambert first started tie-dyeing in high school for fun, but started to regularly sell his merchandise last summer and gained interest from customers. It started growing more when he bought an industrial heat press and branded his items with the slogan “Dye Happy,” featuring a person sitting and meditating inside of a yin yang.
The logo was inspired by the the positive, simple slogan of the “Life is Good” company, which was started by two brothers selling their self-made shirts out of a van along the streets to college students.
“So, I mean, you have to model yourself after those who did it best and who did it in situations like you,” Lambert said. “I may not be homeless living in a van, but I am a broke college kid, so there’s some correlation there for sure.”
Lambert originally used the tie-dye kits from Target and Walmart, but has since learned a new technique called ice dyeing. With his “mind for design,” he can envision certain patterns and what the outcome will be. He twists and folds the material in the desired pattern, places them in a tray, covers the top with ice and then pours the dye powder over the ice. The ice melts throughout the day and thoroughly soaks the dye into and across the material, leaving a result that’s vibrant and long lasting.
“Everything he does is unique,” Kyle Burroughs, a sophomore accounting major and friend of Lambert, said. “There’s maybe some, like, tie-dye manufacturers that would make like the same shirt over and over and try to get like kind of the same tie-dye form, but like each one of Dan’s is just like a unique, individualistic piece.”
Lambert guarantees five years without fading by soaking the products in a sodium bicarbonate mixture before he dyes them. This extravagant process opens up the fabric and allows the dye to be fully submerged into the material, rather than easily washing away from the top layer. He has a shirt that he made when he was a sophomore in high school and claims that it looks like it was made yesterday.
Since launching his tie-dye business, Lambert has gone from making four T-shirts a month to around 100. He’s added a variety of products, ranging from sheets and tapestries to backpacks and underwear. He can be found at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market on Saturdays, where he sells his products at a cheaper price than on his website.
“It’s been really cool to see it develop,” Hannah Shaffer, a junior hospitality management major, said. “Like, him just selling stuff on Snapchat or on Facebook and then seeing it develop into a company and, like, where he is now is just super cool to see from another student.”
Lambert continues to expand his base of customers and Instagram followers by promoting his business across campus. He gives free shirts to the first person who catches him on campus on a day that he’s not wearing tie-dye, and the first person to find him on campus on Tuesdays — which he’s coined “Tie-Dye Tuesday” — and take a picture with him while that person is also wearing tie-dye.
“I just really love people recognizing me as Tie-Dye Dan, and my friends shouting ‘Tie-Dye Tuesday’ at me as they ride past me or I ride past them,” Lambert said.
While he appreciates the fame, he strongly believes that there are people who are more talented at tie-dyeing than he is. However, he’s not so much concerned about that, and is optimistic about his brand and where the future will take him.
“I’m trying to make Tie-Dye Dan an image, like the face of tie-dye,” Lambert said. “I like to think that I’m becoming the best at branding myself and like becoming the tie-dye persona. Like, when people think tie-dye, they think Dan. And, I mean, Tie-Dye Dan’s Tie-Dye Stand just sounds so good.”
Contact Ingrid Basheda at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.