Cathy Oster remembers vividly how her craft show venture began: “We went down to Mexico for vacation. My husband [Steve, above] was wearing a tie-dye shirt, and the vendors walking up and down the beach kept trying to buy it from him. One of our tasks was to figure out how to never come home again. Steve came up with the idea of selling tie-dye T-shirts in Mexico. When I came home, I bought the dye. By the time you figure out how to do it, you have 50. So then you have to figure out what to do with them.”
When the recession of 2008 left her with a gap between consulting contracts as an IT project manager, Oster decided to “take the hobby and try to figure out how to do it a little bit more professionally.”
She discovered that “doing T-shirts got old really fast. I decided I could tie-dye anything. That’s when I started shopping for women’s clothes, kids’ clothes, canvas bags, aprons, bandannas, long underwear. I kind of like the hunt for stuff.”
The range of products has created a unique niche for her company, Totally Tie Dye. “Most of the tie-dye vendors that I see do T-shirts and wall hangings, and it’s pretty standard stuff that you can buy. I have stuff you’ll never find.” On the other hand, she said, “People ask, ‘Do you have this dress in a size large?’ I say, ‘Nope.’”
Their craft sales started with flea markets. “My husband made up some thing out of chicken wire that we could hang stuff on. Mostly we just went to Medina, or the one in Excelsior. You can just call somebody up on Thursday and say, ‘Do you have a spot?’”
Totally Tie Dye caught the attention of craft fair recruiters who scout the flea markets. “Then we did the investment in the tent and professional racks,” she said. “It is a whole different world that I think I like better.”
Still, Oster has limits: “I’m not in a mood to be judged, so I don’t do juried shows. We’ll only do one-day things. I’ll only do one hour away. When we started we’d leave at 4 a.m. Now it’s six.”
What’s the best part of the job?
Actually being at the little festivals. It’s just being there and being part of it. There’s a whole amazing bunch of people that do this, so that’s fun. For both of us who have always thought the only way to make money was to have a job and live in the big city, it’s been a learning experience. I have seen people who have gone from flea market to production making salsas and barbecue sauces.
What’s the hardest part?
My personal worst thing is ironing. I have to buy stuff, wash it, tie it, dye it, rinse it, wash it, and dry it. Then I have to iron it. That is terrible. And it’s always spring. I’m sitting in the basement with the door open, smelling all the spring smells — ironing.
What’s the long-term vision for Totally Tie Dye?
What I’m coasting on is purchase. I’ve probably got about five 40-gallon bins of stuff that isn’t dyed. We’re going to quit. I love the festivals. I never knew this whole world existed. I love going, and I will go again. But it takes too many weekends. □