After doing ice-dyeing jobs around the world, Heyworth man is focusing closer to home

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

“My parents joke that I’m the last person they thought would do anything artistic,” he said from his home in Heyworth which doubles as a working studio.

Factor is the man behind Clothes By Keith.

It’s the outfit that now sells its custom-made glazed tie-dye garments in places like New York, Southern California, and even London and Italy.

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

Glazed tie-dye – icy dye for short – is the more complex cousin of the traditional tie-dye technique that comes to most people’s minds.

Glazed tie-dye is a more time-consuming process. But Factor said he found that, when done correctly, the style resulted in more vivid, subtle color patterns and more intricate designs.

“People came up to me and said, ‘It’s not like the tie-dye I’ve seen before.’ So I like being able to describe why mine is different,” he said.

Creating a glossy tie-dye can take up to 24 hours. A key step is the way the dye flows intricately through a maze of melting ice cubes. Factor said he found success using quality powder dyes and high cotton content fabrics. It also focuses on workspace control.

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

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

Patience helps the process

During a visit to his home studio in Heyworth, he guided WGLT through the process:

First, the item receives an ash dip.

“The soda ash will be what actually holds the dye in the fabric itself. If you don’t use it, everything is going to be muted, everything is going to be watered down,” he said.

Heyworth entrepreneur Keith Factor makes ice dyes and sells them around the world. The process, which involves letting a powdered dye run through the melting ice, can take up to 24 hours.

Then Factor crumbles or folds the fabric. “There are different processes you can do,” he said. Then place the piece wrapped in a rubber band – often a hoodie – on a wire rack, with a water catcher underneath.

The entire kit is placed in a tall cardboard frame, for ice containment. Once the ice cream is on top, he adds the coloring. He is a fan of Dharma Trading Co. inks.

“So the great thing about powdered food coloring is that when you put it on ice, the powder will spread and break up into different colors,” Factor said.

The project sits for hours, as the melting colored ice cream meanders through the fabric. After the long wait comes a good rinse.

Around the world, and back to Heyworth

Factor’s company, Clothes By Keith, can have a global reach. But it’s not as familiar in his corner of the country.

It’s something he wants to change. “I’ve shipped stuff to Australia and Japan. I would also like to be more communal,” he said.

It therefore extends its online approach to a smaller and closer scale. He networks locally, sets up pop-up sales and gets stalls in perennial favorites.

Factor produces one-of-a-kind unique 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 by the Clothes By Keith booth at the Uptown Normal event, browsing a circular aisle of hoodies and t-shirts. He said he was impressed:

“I feel like a lot of tie dye is just, you know, the basic spinning pattern,” he said. “And that’s like a lot of intriguing design, coloring, moving.”

Another Normal Street Fair customer introduced Factor to local musicians who hired Factor to create merchandise for their projects.

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

“I think they’re extremely clever and more interesting than most tie-dye designs I’ve seen and worn,” Rengers said.

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

“As a person from Bloomington, working with another artist from central Illinois means a lot,” Johnson said, adding that in the past the rapper had more 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 how it all started, he says.

“We started at the very beginning of the pandemic – trying to keep ourselves busy,” he said. “So, what are you doing? You find projects, you do artistic stuff. So we started dyeing clothes with just cheap dyes and cheap T-shirts.

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

Factor latched onto it and fell in love with icy tie-dyes. He started to improve his game. This meant using better quality dyes, educating himself and improving his craft.

By the end of 2020 he was sharing his work on his social media accounts and Clothes By Keith started to take off.

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

On the East Coast, sneaker stores in New Jersey and even Yale University have placed an order.

inked.jpg
In this detail from the March 2022 issue of Inked Magazine, New York tattoo artist Alena Wedderburn’s painted design can be seen on one of Keith Factor’s custom-designed hoodies. The six-page spread features six different pieces from Clothes By Keith, featuring six designs by New York tattoo artists.

Then came the big break from Factor – Inked Magazine.

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

The next thing Factor knew, Hajar had hosted a photo shoot for the New York-based publication, featuring a mix of celebrity tattoo artists applying their own designs to Factor’s unique hoodies.

“I made a shirt with him, and I thought it was cool,” Factor said. “So we did some shirts with him for the Inked Shop. Then I asked him to do some exclusive shirts with him for the magazine that artists painted on.

Hajan said Factor’s work caught his eye.

“He just has a unique way of doing his job, and his job is different from everyone else. He uses different techniques, different models and he perfects his craft in what he does,” he said.

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

“I have stuff all over California, Vegas, New York, New Jersey, Florida,” he said. “And a lot of those stores have been featured thanks to Inked Magazine.”

The issue included six of Factor’s bespoke hoodies. Each was painted by New York tattoo artists Koral Ladna, Alena Wedderburn, Anastasia, Mada Martyr, Joey Perez and one was a collaboration of Miss Vampira and It’s Fun to Be a Vampire.

Having his work featured like this lends credence to the product that has proven successful, Factor said, noting that there are tons of people who make tie-dye and custom clothing, so when you can get a reference like that, it’s invaluable.

Factor taking the “shop small” approach to heart

Although Factor plans to continue his e-commerce business, he looks forward to spending time hanging out in the community.

He has no plans for a storefront in central Illinois anytime soon. But it plans more frequent pop-up shops and festival stalls.

Factor credits his girlfriend, Sara Penny, for helping him run the business. He said that in addition to the process of making the ice tints, there is billing, shipping and other behind-the-scenes work that has been a team effort.

Now they set up booths at events and stay out for 12 hours.

But having people able to see the clothes in person is a plus, he said. And while sales are still positive, that’s not its primary focus.

Above all, Factor said, he’s glad the company is in a place where we can all go back to fairs and 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 had the Inked Magazine thing if I hadn’t sold a guy a hoodie.”

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

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