Counter culture couple spreads color and love with Mt. Washington shop

While it’s often associated with hippie culture, the origins of tie-dye reportedly date back to 5th century AD, when Chinese peasants adopted the method to enhance simple fabrics with vibrant effects after being banned from wearing silk by the ruling class.

A longtime staple of many Deadhead or granola types’ wardrobes, tie-dye has recently had a resurgence on the runway and in clothing stores. Creating one-of-a-kind clothing and décor with it has become a popular at-home hobby for adults and kids alike. The variations in color and pattern are endless — and no longer just reserved for standard T-shirts.

Stephanie Zier and Casey Short are the proprietors of Funky Sunshine. The colorful Mt. Washington couple has now been in the tie-dye business for seven years, and their natural talent for the craft has been augmented with a high level of meticulous skill over that time.

Their designs go beyond the ordinary, with thoughtfully unique and complex patterns that are masterfully applied — not only to T’s, but also to a variety of unique and flattering styles of clothing in a wide range of sizes.

“We started out making big tapestries as sun blockers for our canopy when we went to festivals,” says 32-year-old Zier, whose love for making art began with painting.

Zier explains that she then expanded her scope by dyeing leggings with Casey Short’s sister Holly as a fun craft activity to pass the time. The Shorts’ mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and Zier wanted to help her partner’s younger sibling cope by providing an artistic outlet.

Short’s father noticed the quality of their work and how much they enjoyed it. He offered to invest in their art so that they could begin selling their wares.

“He gave us $300 to buy leggings and dye. We started selling them to our friends, and then making more,” says Zier.

One evening while on a walk through their neighborhood, the young couple noticed a storefront with a “For Rent” sign. In her mind, Zier began to paint a picture of future possibilities. She and Short walked home, then returned for a second look. They agreed it was a worthwhile prospect for a shop. Zier and the Shorts quickly pulled together a deposit. Less than one month later, Funky Sunshine opened for business at 6448 Sherman Avenue.

“At our grand opening, friends and family basically bought us out. That paid our rent long enough for us to restock and figure out how to be a business — and market it to people beyond friends and family,” laughs Zier.

Currently, Funky Sunshine’s brick and mortar location is only open for a few hours every Wednesday. The bulk of the business is done through an Etsy shop as well as festival vending. This is primarily done at Hippie Fest — a regionally-based, traveling music and arts event that offers a family-friendly setting for those with counter culture interests.

“Our store was starting to pick up and get busy right before Covid, and that just killed every bit of foot traffic we had. We were closed for like a year,” says Zier. “We’re still hardly open. After the shutdown, people who would come shopping in here started buying from us online, which gave us a nice little bump.”

Festivals are booked through the end of October. Zier says she is looking forward to November, when the shop will have increased business hours to support holiday sales. The seasonal shift in operations is a welcome one. Sticking closer to home is especially appealing now that Short and Zier are parents to an infant son.

Funky Sunshine will host an annual event known as Funky Fest on October 23rd.

“Funky Fest is our last event of the year. We’ve had one every year since we opened. We have a dozen vendors that set up in our back parking area, and we have live music all day,” says Zier. “We’ll have a food truck and probably a beer truck. We’ll also have events and activities for kids.”

Zier encourages those who can’t make the event to come create their own fashions at any of their open tie-dye events, currently offered during business hours on Wednesdays, with expanded dates coming soon.

“We’ll teach you any basic fold you want, and then walk you through the process of how to apply the dye to achieve the desired effect that you’re going for,” offers Zier, whose personal skills go well beyond the basics to more intricate techniques, such as ice dyeing.

In past years, Funky Sunshine has also hosted some community-minded, feel-good events. Groups would gather to weave lightweight, weatherproof sleeping mats for the homeless out of difficult-to-recycle, plastic grocery bags, for example. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic has put the kibosh on that activity for the time being. It doesn’t put a damper on Zier and Short’s optimistic and helpful way of thinking. Business is booming, as evidenced by Short’s dye-stained hands, and they both keep very busy. Kindhearted Zier still spreads her unique brand of sunshine by crafting mats out of bags on her own when she can find the time.
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Read more articles by Eliza Bobonick.

Eliza Bobonick is a Cincinnati-based writer and a mother of three. Her work has been featured in such local and regional publications as Cincinnati CityBeat and Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine. She is a former musician whose interests include photography and interior design.