Paul Kenney is a deadhead trickster folk hero. Legend has it he emerged from Nebraska sometime in the seventies, packing a scholarly penchant for chemistry and an incomparable snide streak. Between graduate labs at UCLA, Paul started making tie-dye. It was a good way to pay for Dead tickets. But he wasn’t satisfied with the faded two-color spirals and horizontal folds that the last decade had rendered cliché. Paul wanted his tie-dye to stand out.
As with everything he did, Paul brought a distinct attitude to tie-dye: mischief and raw scientific precision. With armloads of vivid, intensely complex dyes, he conquered the concert parking lot market, selling at hundreds of shows across the country. It wasn’t long before Paul’s work entered the realm of myth — even Phil Lesh acquired a tee. And decades later, Paul still churns out dyes with furious frequency. Old customers are everywhere. “I bought a shirt from you back in ‘81,” they’ll say. “It’s still my favorite.”
Fast forward to a tiny apartment in Isla Vista, California, on a day in early 2014. Paul sat at his son Thomas’ kitchen table, armed with a white t-shirt and a curmudgeonly aura. Also present were Thomas’ friends Will and Kyle, and a few others who had heard the legend — who had seen the tapestries on Thomas’ walls.
This was to become Tribe Ties. We, the assembled college kids, had been begging Paul to teach us his tie-dye style for ages. For some reason, he finally relented. Maybe he was ready to pass the torch. Maybe he just wanted to be left alone. Whatever the case, he only gave us a half-demonstration. As we stood around the table transfixed, Paul covered the absolute basics of his highly technical style, twisting the shirt to completion in minutes. We barely saw it happen. The rest, he said, we’d have to figure out on our own.
We tied shirts together for countless hours. Every weekend, we dyed piles of fabric. Admittedly, the first batches were lacking. Our colors were muddy, or we couldn’t get the symmetry down. But steadily, our hands got faster. The ties got tighter. The colors got brighter.
Since then, we’ve moved beyond the scope of Paul’s original style. We’ve tackled quadrilateral symmetry, mandala, batik, and ice dyeing. We’ve tie-dyed hundreds of continuous feet of fabric, and even shaped a series of retro-style tie-dye surfboards. We’ve hosted museum exhibitions, collaborated with some of today’s most respected fabric artists, and sent pieces around the the globe. Through it all, the scope of our mission has only grown. We want to hijack human consciousness, induce synesthesia, and take our medium into the iridescent future. We’re determined to use dye and fabric in ways that nobody else has.
So please, wear with pride. Welcome to the Tribe.
Thomas Kenney CEO and Lead Artist
William Shearer VP and Lead Artist
Jake Weeks Guest Artist
Kyle Wycoff Guest Artist
Paul Kenney Guest Artist
Web Design by Yoav Zimmerman and Founding Staff
Photography by Jamie Brannan and Founding Staff