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Portland is tie-dye Mecca for Sellwood hippie

by: Merry MacKinnon, Eric Nykanen of Sellwood sells most of his colorful line of tie-dyed apparel at Saturday Market, where sales are brisk. After moving here from California, Nykanen discovered a ready market for his tie dye clothing line.

As the crowd inches its way through Saturday Market in downtown Portland, 'Tie Dye Eric' is all smiles. For the first Saturday this year, the temperature has climbed to 80 degrees, and sales at his booth across from the food court are hot.

'I've been selling them as fast I can put them up,' beams Eric Nykanen.

A Sellwood resident, Nykanen sells his 'Love Lite Precision' line, which is colorful tie-dye apparel, as flamboyant as an Amazon parrot's plumage. And his eye-popping, multi-colored boxer shorts, T-shirts, dresses, aprons, hats, and sweatshirts are attracting lots of customers.

At his Saturday Market booth, teenage girls stop to admire the purple, orange, and blue 'cheeky' underwear displayed alongside smiley-faced boxer shorts. A mother buys tie-dyed clothes for her child, as a woman squeezes into Nykanen's booth searching for a dress, preferably one bursting with green, to wear on vacation in Costa Rica.

Nykanen sells eighty percent of his creations at Saturday Market, and the rest online at: www.love-lite.biz. He also produces the official tie dye T-shirt for the River City Blue Grass Festival.

He's been creating tie dye apparel for nearly half a century.

'I started doing tie dye in the 1960s, when I was nine years old,' recalls Nykanen, his long blonde hair swept back by a baseball cap. In fact, he adds, a vintage creation from his early tie dye days is currently under review by the Smithsonian Institution for possible addition to its Americana clothing exhibit.

Almost a decade ago, Nykanen moved to Portland from San Diego - and found his bliss.

'I feel like I moved to the tie-dye Mecca,' he says. 'After I came here, I discovered my little hippie brethren had also moved here from California.'

At first, Nykanen lived in the Hawthorne district, which, he says, he was advised would be the best fit for him.

But maybe not, because then he moved to Sellwood, where he is clearly glad to live. He dyes his clothing line in his house, using fiber reactive dyes to create bright, psychedelic designs that don't bleed or fade, he says.

'People tell me, 'I've seen tie dye for 30 years, and I've never seen anything so distinctive',' he says.

His booth at Saturday Market is easy to find. Just look for the layered tent that looks like someone threw paint balloons at it.