Students inspired by UC Davis course start clothing business using non-toxic and plant-based dyes
The California Aggie spoke to Gracie Globerman and Juliette Connolly as part of our Shop Sustainably series, which highlights a green business local to Davis each month.
Spring of 2020 was full of many fads: Tiger King, Tiktok and, of course, tie dye. Two UC Davis students, in particular, decided that they could find an environmentally conscious way to stick with the trends and start a business in the process.
Juliette Connolly, a third-year human development major, and her friend and housemate Gracie Globerman, a third-year sustainable environmental design major, co-founded Fly Dye after Globerman was inspired by one of her classes.
“During spring quarter Gracie was taking ANT 104 which is a culture, politics and the environment class that was mostly toxicology focused, and she was explaining to our housemates how many toxins are in clothing dyes and products that we don’t always know about,” Connolly said. “We decided to try and make our own dyes that were non-toxic and also natural […] it was something that she shared with us and it eventually became a passion project.”
Globerman added that this course taught her a lot about the many toxic chemicals in clothing and other everyday items that are not banned by the EPA. She said that learning about the danger of these chemicals—and encouraged by quarantine boredom—led her and her housemate to attempt making their own dyes.
“It started as a quarantine fun project,” Globerman said. “We shouldn’t be wearing clothes and accessories that are dyed with toxic dyes, and we shouldn’t have that close to our bodies and be breathing it in all the time so we found ways to make our own dyes.”
Once they started successfully dyeing their own clothes, Connolly and Globerman decided to start Fly Dye to sell their non-toxic dyed products. Early on, they released a line of upcycled shirts, which Connolly said has been one of their more interesting projects.
“One of our most fun projects was that we went to the Goodwill in Woodland and picked up a bunch of white shirts, tank tops and long sleeves so we did an upcycled line,” Connolly said. “We posted them as white shirts and people commented which ones they wanted and what color dye they wanted.”
Although they did sell premade pieces when they were getting started, now they mostly produce custom orders. People will send them a piece and a color or design preference and Fly Dye will customize it with their dyes. They set up an Instagram page, where their custom shirts, masks and other products can be purchased through direct message. Connolly believes that Instagram has played an integral part in Fly Dye’s success.
“Social media has been our best friend,” Connolly said. “We started an Instagram and followed people we thought would be interested, and then those people posted [Fly Dye] on their stories so more people saw. We don’t even have a website or anything, we’ve only sold through Instagram.”
Globerman emphasized that she’s learned how impactful developing relationships with customers can be for small businesses, since satisfied customers often want to share Fly Dye and continue purchasing from them.
“Building relationships with customers is really important,” Globerman said. “It’s so easy to order something on Amazon, and it’s maybe cheaper, but when you create a customer relationship, people want to continue buying from you.”
Ali Wildman, a fourth-year international relations major, has done exactly that. She said that she heard about Fly Dye through friends, and has since made multiple purchases.
“I loved that they were so sustainable and used all natural ingredients and flowers for their dyes so I wanted to check them out,” Wildman said. “I bought a t-shirt when they were dying thrifted items. I especially loved that it was thrifted because of the environmental impact of fast fashion and that shirt is my favorite thing I own now. It’s so soft and smells so amazing because they dyed it with indigo flowers. When they started making masks I got two for my mom and I and then we got more because we loved them so much.”
In addition to being a fairly new small business, Fly Dye is committed to using sustainable materials in their products, which makes their process more labor intensive and time consuming.
“[Using sustainable materials] definitely makes it more hands-on, because we’re not just dyeing things,” Connolly said. “For example, we use avocado pits and peels that our households have eaten and are food waste […] that is definitely a hands-on process, making the dye. We use a lot of waste, like old coffee grounds. The sustainable part comes in a long process but a fun pay-off.”
In addition to the added time it takes to use sustainable dyes, it makes the process more expensive.
“We could so easily just buy bad ingredients because they’re cheaper, but that wouldn’t align with what we believe in,” Globerman said.
Though they have committed to using sustainable materials to make their products, they hope to continue making their business as a whole even more environmentally friendly.
“Another goal in the future is to switch to compostable packaging,” Connolly said. “Right now we do a lot of local delivery so we wrap our products in twine and throw a business card in there so it’s very low waste packaging. When we do ship, we use the USPS packaging so a goal would be to switch to something more sustainable.”
Globerman and Connolly hope to continue growing Fly Dye via Instagram and possibly an Etsy online storefront to sell their masks. Eventually, they’d even like to team up with other local sustainable businesses to collaborate on products. Globerman says that overall, they are committed to making sustainable and equitable products.
“A lot of the time when you find brands branded as sustainable they’re so expensive and really not attainable, so sustainable fashion becomes only attainable for wealthy people,” Globerman said. “I think our prices are pretty fair and competitive. [Our goal is] to create and promote sustainable and healthy fashions and to do that at a very socially equitable [price].”
Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — firstname.lastname@example.org