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After taking ice tie-dye works worldwide, Heyworth man turns focus closer to home

If you asked Keith Factor a few years ago if he saw his future in the fashion business, he would have laughed.

“My parents joke I’m the last person they thought would be doing something artistic,” he said from his Heyworth home that doubles as his work studio.

Factor’s the man behind Clothes By Keith.

That’s the outfit now selling his custom-made ice tie-dye clothing in places like New York City, southern California — even London and Italy.

This weekend, the work will be available a little closer to home at Clinton's Apple 'n' Pork Festival, which runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Ice tie-dye — ice dye for short — is the complex cousin of the traditional tie-dye technique that comes to mind for most people.

Ice tie-dye is a more time-consuming process. But Factor said he’s found, when done correctly, the style gives more vivid and subtle color patterns, and more intricate designs.

“People have come up to me and they go ‘This isn’t like the tie-dye I’ve seen before.’ So, I like being able to describe why mine looks different,” he said.

Creating an ice tie-dye can take up to 24 hours. A key step is how the dye intricately drips through a labyrinth of melting ice cubes. Factor said he’s found success using quality powder dyes, and cloth material with high-cotton content. He also uses a temperature-controlled workspace.

But the self-taught entrepreneur said his ice tie-dye journey didn’t start with such attention to detail.

“It was a lot of trial and error, reading up on how to do it, reaching out to people,” he said.

Patience helps the process

On a visit to his home studio, he walked WGLT through the process:

First, the item gets an ashy soak.

“The soda ash will be what actually holds the dye into the fabric itself. If you don’t use that, everything’s going to be muted, everything’s going to be watered out,” he said.

Heyworth entrepreneur Keith Factor makes ice tie-dyes, and sells them all around the world.
Clothes By Keith
Heyworth entrepreneur Keith Factor makes ice tie-dyes, and sells them all around the world. The process, which includes letting a powder dye make its way through melting ice, can take up to 24 hours.

Next, Factor crumbles or folds the cloth. “There’s different processes that you can do,” he said. That’s followed by placing the rubber-band wrapped piece — often a hoodie — onto a grate, with a water catcher beneath.

The whole kit is set into a tall cardboard frame, for ice containment. Once ice is arranged on top, he adds the dye. He's a fan of Dharma Trading Co. inks.

“So, the great thing about the powder dye is, when you put that on ice, the powder will actually spread and actually break into different colors,” said Factor.

The project sits for hours, as the colorful ice melt winds its way into the cloth. After the long wait comes a good rinse.

Around the world, and back to Heyworth

Factor's company, Clothes By Keith, may have global reach. But it isn’t as familiar in his own neck of the woods.

That’s something he wants to change. “I’ve shipped stuff to Australia and to Japan. I would like to be more community based as well,” he said.

So, he’s expanding his online-based approach to a smaller, and up-close scale. He’s networking locally, setting up pop-up sales, and getting booths at perennial favorites.

Factor produces one-of-a-kind pieces. Hoodies and T-shirts are his most popular. But he also tie dyes sneakers, bags, bandanas. You name it.

He found new fans at Normal’s recent Sweet Corn Circus.

Illinois State University student Nate Luna stopped at the Clothes By Keith booth at the Uptown Normal event, browsing through a circular rack of hoodies and T-shirts. He said he was impressed:

“I feel like a lot of tie dyes are just, you know, the basic spin pattern," he said. "And this is like a lot of intriguing design, coloring, moving about.”

Another customer at the Normal street fair introduced Factor to some local musicians who have enlisted Factor to create merchandise for their projects.

Dub step musician The Reng and rapper Bigelow-T, stage names of Alex Rengers and Tanner Johnson, have outfitted their stage manager and equipment team with Clothes by Keith hoodies. Johnson said each is unique, but tied together with the entertainers’ logos.

Rengers says his hoodie is really comfortable, so he wears it a lot. People often comment on the patterns, he said.

“I think they are extremely artful, and they’re more interesting than most tie-dye designs that I’ve seen and that I’ve worn,” he added.

But the musicians also like Factor’s interest in building local networks.

“As someone from Bloomington — to work with another artist who’s from the central Illinois area means a lot,” said Johnson, adding, he's ordered generic shirts online, but the experience was impersonal.

Clothes By Keith started in a small-town kitchen

Factor and his family, like many people, found themselves during the COVID lockdown in need of entertainment.

That’s the back story, he said.

“We started at the very beginning of the pandemic — trying to keep busy," he said. "So what do you do? You find projects, you do art stuff.’ So, we started dying clothes with just cheap dyes and cheap T-shirts.”

The experience started as a fun project. “But, we had no idea what we were doing,” he added.

Factor stuck with it, and became passionate about ice tie-dyes. He started upping his game. That meant using better quality dyes, educating himself and improving his craft.

By late 2020, he was sharing work on his social media accounts, and Clothes By Keith started taking off.

Orders here and there — through Instagram followers’ requests — turned into merchandise contracts in places like California’s If Skate Shop and Moondust Studios, where store logos were added to Factor’s work.

Over on the East Coast, New Jersey sneaker shops, and even Yale University put in an order.

Inked Magazine
In this detail from Inked Magazine's March 2022 issue, New York City tattoo artist Alena Wedderburn's painted design can be seen one of Keith Factor's custom-designed hoodies. The six-page spread includes six different Clothes By Keith pieces, with six NYC tattoo artists' designs.

Then came Factor’s big break of sorts — Inked Magazine.

The New York City-based publication’s creative director, Sami Hajar, came across Factor’s work through SoCal’s Moondust Studios.

The next thing Factor knew, Hajar had organized a photo shoot for Inked, featuring a mash-up of famous tattoo artists applying their own designs to Factor’s one-of-a-kind hoodies.

“I did a shirt with him, and I thought it was cool," said Hajar. "So we did a few shirts for the Inked Shop store. Then I had him do some exclusive shirts — for the magazine — that we had artists paint on.”

Hajar said Factor’s work grabbed his attention.

“He just has a unique way of doing his work, and his stuff is different than everybody else. He does different techniques, different patterns and he’s perfecting his craft into what he’s doing,” he said.

Since the March 2022 issue’s release (featuring Avril Lavigne on the cover), Factor said interest in his work has catapulted.

“I have stuff everywhere from California, Vegas, New York, New Jersey, Florida," he said. "And a lot of those shops were brought forward because of Inked Magazine.”

The issue included six of Factor's custom-made hoodies. Each got painted by New York City tattoo artists Koral Ladna, Alena Wedderburn, Anastasia, Mada Martyr, Joey Perez and Miss Vampira.

Having his work featured like that lends credibility to the product, said Factor, noting there’s tons of people making tie-dye and custom clothes out there, so when you can have a reference like that, it's invaluable.

Factor taking ‘shop small’ approach to heart

While Factor plans to continue his e-commerce business, he’s looking forward to spending time getting out in the community.

He doesn’t have plans for a central Illinois storefront any time soon. But he’s planning more frequent pop-up shops, and festival booths.

Factor credits his girlfriend, Sara Penny, for helping him manage the business. He said besides the process of making the ice tie-dyes, there’s invoicing, shipping and other behind-the-scenes work that has been a team effort.

Now, they are adding setting up booths at events, and staying outside for 12-hour stints.

But having people able to see the clothes in person is a plus, he said. And while sales are always a positive, that’s not his main objective.

Mostly, Factor said, he’s happy society is in a place we can all go to fairs again, and get to meet face to face.

“You never know who you’re going to meet — or who they’re going to know," he said. "I mean I never would have got the Inked Magazine thing if I hadn’t sold one hoodie to one guy."

Factor said besides this weekend’s booth at the Apple ‘N’ Pork Festival, Clothes By Keith also will be at the Midwest Toy and Comic Fest on Oct. 1 in Bloomington. And of course, people can still order his products online.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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