Former preschool teacher Greg Stemas started tie-dying with his students and then discovered a passion, and business, for the art.
By Monica Drake
Photos courtesy Brightlytwisted
“I’ve been dying for the last 23 years,” says Greg Stemas.
People tend to look at him funny when he says things like this. And it happens a lot considering he works in the tie-dying business.
Stemas started tie-dying as a hobby in the basement of his Dearborn home. This led to him selling at art fairs, and then he moved his work to a small warehouse in Livonia. This became his production and wholesale center, and, soon, retail stores like Neiman Marcus and Free People began selling his apparel.
Today, the clothing line is a full-fledged, full-time business for Stemas. Last October, Stemas and his wife, Tammy Bourque, opened the doors to their new boutique — Brightlytwisted — in Corktown.
“I was a preschool teacher at Dearborn Heights Montessori. Tie-dying started as just a way to be creative and make a little money in the summers,” Stemas says.
“I saw examples of tie-dying in a book. I tried it, and I was horrible, just terrible. But that didn’t stop me. (Tie-dying) made me feel something. I discovered I really like working with color.”
Bourque met Stemas about 14 years ago, when she started working at Dearborn Heights. By then, Stemas had become established in the art fair circuit.
“Everyone knew — tie-dying is what he did. He would dye with the kids in his class,” Bourque says.
When they started dating, Stemas taught Bourque and her daughter Alex how to tie-dye, and soon she fell in love with both him and his creative work. She believed in his products and knew he could do even more with it.
“Tammy wanted to do it full-time — and I had secretly wanted to do that for a long time, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet,” Stemas says. “…But Tammy didn’t look at it as a risk. She looked at it as an adventure.”
Stemas realized he didn’t want to be held back by fear anymore. Bourque’s free and authentic way of living inspired Stemas to do the same.
And it paid off. Bourque says, in the last decade, they have sold between $10 and $15 million worth of products.
Their four-person team — Stemas, Bourque, her daughter Alex Bourque and Zack McKeever (artist and production manager) — dyes every piece by hand, so no two articles of clothing are exactly the same. They each dye about 10 to 20 pieces each day.
“Everything from twisting to dying to rinsing to tagging — it all gets touched by one of us throughout the day. Even if we’re doing the same design, each piece of clothing is dyed independently; it doesn’t just go into a vat,” says Alex, who co-owns Brightlytwisted with her mom and stepdad.
“You can’t replicate it, the same way you can’t replicate a person. You can’t repeat it without printing, and that’s not who we are.”
Brightlytwisted team member Sara Lillian Bishop adds, “Whenever I wear Brightlytwisted, people ask, ‘Where did you get that?’ You’re wearing an expression of yourself, and, when people recognize that, it feels like they’re recognizing a part of you. You picked out something from a sea of one-of-a-kind, hand-dyed things.”
Brightlytwisted is hosting its one-year anniversary party from 6 to 11 p.m. on Oct. 24 at their store located at 1418 Michigan Ave. in Detroit. A portion of the proceeds from the event will go to Happy Community Quilts. The project was founded by Bishop, her mother Jeanne Nicholson and Bourque, and they make quilts and deliver them to patients at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. One of the quilts will be auctioned off during the event.
Attendees are encouraged to bring new winter hats and mittens, which will be donated to Crossroads of Michigan, a nonprofit that provides emergency assistance, advocacy and counseling to anyone in need. Those who bring donations will receive a discount on any Brightlytwisted product, and the first 20 people will get a free swag bag. At the event, there will also be live music by local bands Ohio Wild and Iris, food and cocktails.
“My mom and Greg have built something here — creating a community that is more powerful than any of us could have imagined. This space is for people who want to make or buy something beautiful,” Alex says.
For more information about the event, the business and tie-dying workshops, visit brightlytwistedtiedye.com.