To Dustin Looney and Mike De Sorto, tie dye designs are a lot like fingerprints — each one is unique.
At Mad Discs and Dyes — the company the two Marengo residents started during their sophomore years of college — the differentiating nature of the designs holds especially true.
“We take pride in every item being extremely unique,” Looney said. “It’s arguably not the best business decision.”
That inconsistency doesn’t mean the duo has an inferior product. Rather, they try to make as many different design and color combinations as possible instead of stocking up on only the hottest sellers.
“You know that saying, ‘There’s a [butt] for every saddle?’” Looney asked, laughing. A more common phrase for Looney’s explanation is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Still, if customers don’t see what they want, Looney and De Sorto are always happy to make a custom order or a close re-creation of another item.
As best friends growing up, the pair had always dreamed about owning a business together, often making small attempts as young children that weren’t always successful. When they were about 10 years old, Looney and De Sorto tried growing guppies to sell to a pet supply store. When the fish hatched, however, the male guppies ate the babies because they hadn’t been separated. Later on, the two started a small farmstand off De Sorto’s grandmother’s property on Route 20. About all they sold was a Twinkie, De Sorto said, laughing. Obviously, the business plan changed.
Sometimes fortunes also change when a person isn’t looking. De Sorta was in the midst of a fiber arts class in college when his love for tie-dying began. After the class, De Sorta bought a dying kit and quickly passed on his new passion to Looney. Mad Discs and Dyes was born shortly thereafter, and by summer 2007, the business had a small stand at the Woodstock Farmers Market.
“We had 76 shirts at our first market,” Looney recalled.
In addition to shirts, the pair also tie-dyed baby onesies, which have turned into one of Mad Discs and Dyes’ top sellers. Today, the business sells sweatshirts, grocery bags, bandanas and repurposed clothing that gives an already unique item even more personality.
“We’ll tie-dye anything,” De Sorto said proudly, noting that they have dyed bedsheets, pants, shorts and hats, among other items.
Since starting the business as a part-time gig, the pair have made tie-dying a full-time profession, often working 60 to 70 hours per week on their creations. After college, Looney spent time traveling and De Sorto worked as an inside sales representative at Allied Building Products Corp. before taking the full-time leap.
Today, they sell their products at various farmers markets in the area, including those in Woodstock, Rockford, Elgin and Cary. The business also sells at music festivals, craft shows and other events. About 80 percent of Mad Discs and Dyes’ customers are women, and the duo makes the most sales when they sell at events where their products stand out.
“It’s best when we can kind of catch people off guard,” Looney said. “Anytime we can get that, we’re going to have a good day.”
Still, selling in locations where tie-dying is widespread, such as music festivals, is something De Sorto and Looney agree can’t be beat.
“We love [selling at music festivals]. It’s a ton of fun,” Looney said, but added that most people at the festivals make their own shirts or have tie-dye apparel already. Instead of making a lot of money, the business partners sell at the festivals for the atmosphere.
In the near future, De Sorto and Looney hope to begin selling dresses and building up their screen printing operation, complete with more subtle tie-dye color tones.
“We want to take our company and put a brand on it,” De Sorto said.
In addition, De Sorto and Looney have started offering tie-dying workshops at local schools. During the workshops, each student learns how to make a tie-dyed shirt using school colors. In the future, Mad Discs and Dyes hopes to print school logos onto the shirts before students dye them.
“For large groups, it’s usually cheaper than the cost of buying a [school] shirt,” De Sorto said.
Although they sell plenty of tie-dyed products, there’s a reason Looney and De Sorto chose the name Mad Discs and Dyes for their business. When they chose the name, the two had hopes of producing their own line of disc golf discs. That portion of the business is on hold for the time being, but that hope is not dead.
“The ultimate goal is to get into disc golf,” De Sorto said. “That’s definitely the concept behind the idea right now.”
For more information about Mad Discs and Dyes, visit www.maddiscs.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. De Sorto can be reached at 815-790-2906 and Looney can be reached at 815-529-5832.