Friday, December 7, 2012

The Colorful World of a "Tie-Dyeing Mom Entrepreneur"

The boundless creativity of humans, even among just my small circle of friends, never fails to amaze me. It's so gratifying to see them simply enjoying their artistic and crafting endeavors, perhaps selling a few items here and there for fun, or actually launching a business with their talents.

Rainbow Kids is one such business. This home-based enterprise, which specializes in creating "vibrant and unique tie-dyed clothing for babies, children, and adults" by hand, is the brainchild of my friend Stacia Caplanson, whom I've known since our college days together. Her creativity blooms in the tropical colors of the cotton clothing she sells online and at craft fairs. 

In the 1980s, Stacia and I shared many cups of tea and beautiful southern New England days together, sometimes daydreaming about starting neighboring small farms before our post-college careers took us along different paths and, eventually, different coasts (but not before Stacia taught me how to milk a cow and to overcome my fear of making bread with yeast). 

She was the first person I ever knew who owned and used a spinning wheel.

Today, Stacia produces her vivid clothing in a studio at home in Massachusetts. The process begins with mixing powdered fiber-reactive dyes with water. The clothing is folded, tied, banded by hand, and soaked in a "mordant solution" (a substance that fixes dye to fabric) before having the dye applied with squeeze bottles. Then the clothing is put into a plastic bag so that it can "age" for 24 hours.

After the dye has bonded with the fabric, Stacia rinses out the items and washes them twice so that all traces of excess dye are removed.

At this point, she gets to relish the colorful results of her work. "It is a joy to view each creation as I take it out of the washer. No two are exactly alike," she notes on her website, Rainbow Kids Tie Dye.

Stacia likes to say that each piece is as unique as the person who wears it.

Many people are interested in the origin of the  materials used by crafters, and Stacia enjoys sharing that information with them. 

"I believe in using quality materials that create a product which will be loved and worn for many years," she explains.

"I use fiber-reactive dyes which create colors that are vibrant and long lasting on the 100% cotton clothing that I dye. Most of my dyes and clothing blanks are sourced from a socially responsible company in California that has been in business since 1969. The quality of their dyes is exceptional, and I appreciate that they carry organic cotton clothing, offer clothing sewn by a Bolivian women’s co-op, and source fair-trade products."

Stacia started her own business in October 2008 after years working as a museum interpreter and historian demonstrating spinning, weaving, knitting, quilting, and wool dyeing.

"I wanted to start a home-based business that would allow me to be creative, have a flexible schedule, and create a fun product," she says.

She'd always loved dressing her son in tie-dyed clothing (for one thing, it made him easy to see on the playground!), so she pointed her talents in this new direction. First, she asked a tie-dyeing brother-in-law to teach her how to tie-dye. "His advice was to just jump in and start doing it—and he was right!" she recalls.

 "I did some research, bought a kit, and just started dyeing...and haven’t stopped since then. I was out selling shirts and socks at my first event, a local farmer’s market, just three weeks after I had learned  to fold and dye."

Being a self-employed artisan often means long hours. For Stacia, this includes the wee hours of the night.  "I do most of my work between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., while my family is sleeping," she says.

It is hard but satisfying work. "I both love and am frustrated that my business is  a one-woman operation," she explains. "I love being able to say that I am the creator of  all the things that I sell and am frustrated that I never have as much inventory as I wish I had when I head out to a market or festival. I also both love the flexibility of being able to be up working  at 1 a.m. yet wish there were more hours during the day to get everything done!"

Her love of craft and color started early. "I have always loved the creative process of working with fabrics, fibers and colors," she notes. As a child, she recalls enjoying all kinds of crafts, particularly making shadow boxes, sewing, knitting, cooking, and doing macramé.
A strong element of play still enlivens her work. Asked to name her favorite aspect of her craft, she quickly responds, "Playing with color! I am constantly learning and creating new color combinations." As inspiration, she cites "the playful nature of children."

Any advice for other crafters who'd like to make the leap into marketing their creations? 

"Love what you do, be prepared to learn a lot and work harder than you ever have,  and know that it is a roller coaster—there are no guarantees and you need to be in it for the long haul," says Stacia. "There will be days when you sell lots and there will be days when you sell little. Some days I long for the stability of the steady paycheck. Building a business takes time and many talents, from creating your product, to researching venues, posting on Facebook, setting up your tent and display, greeting your customers, and paying your taxes.  Find a community of fellow artisans who will share with you what they know and share your triumphs and despair. And believe in yourself and your product."

Tie-dyeing mom entrepreneur Stacia Caplanson is a proud member of the groups Artisans of Western Mass, and Etsy Teams SAHM of Etsy and Made in Massachusetts. Stacia also feels it is important to give back to the community and so she participates and donates to fundraisers that benefit organizations such as Relay for Life, Food Bank of Western Mass, the United Way, and Room to Read, which promotes literacy. 

You can find her colorful creations online at, at farmer's markets in some areas of western Massachusetts (as well as holiday craft festivals), and at outdoor festivals such as the Annual West Brookfield Asparagus Festival, Red Fire Farm’s Tomato Festival, and the CT Garlic and Harvest Festival, and at a local natural food shop. In 2012 Stacia was invited to sell at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival as well as street festivals in Hartford, CT, and Worcester, MA.