Build Your Business:

A Tale of Two Screen Printers

For a pair of Boston-area apparel decorators, teaming up has been one of the keys to their success

By Deavihan Scott, Content Marketing Associate

For Jabir (left) and Marck being able to talk things out has been integral to the way they run their custom decorated-apparel company. Photo by Adam Cort

March 29, 2024

From the time they were young, Marckendy “Marck” Jean and Jabir Ducasse both knew they wanted to be entrepreneurs. It wouldn’t be until 2013, though, that they would team up to create the custom apparel business that is VilleSide Customs in the Boston suburb of Somerville, Massachusetts.

Marck’s first experience managing his own business was selling candy as a kid. As the years passed his interests shifted, but his desire to run a business of his own never waned, and in 2001 he began a venture with another close friend, which they dubbed P.A.P. (Pretty Authentic People) Clothing.

VilleSide custom T-shirt screen printing, embroidery

Located in the heart of Somerville, Massachusetts, being a part of the wider community is one of the keys to VilleSide’s success.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Jabir knew he wanted to “be his own boss” but had not yet figured out all the steps he needed to take to make it happen. Over the years he worked a series of different jobs, eventually reaching the point he could no longer ignore the urge to strike out on his own. Already having an interest in screen printing and vinyl work—and inspired by the name his late brother had come up with years earlier—he opened VilleSide Customs in 2008.

Jabir ran the shop on his own for five years until he found himself at a crossroads as a result of the burnout he was experiencing. At the same time, Marck was in a position where he was looking for yet more opportunities with respect to his own career path. Although they’d worked together before, the two were formally re-introduced by a mutual friend who recognized how their interests were aligned. Thus, was born the current iteration of VilleSide Customs Company.

From the very beginning, even as the two of them were still considering joining forces, they felt like they clicked. “We speak the same language,” Jabir says. “Customers will call and not know if they’re speaking to me or Marck sometimes.”

Custom Apparel and Community Engagement

Complementing their ability to communicate is the fact that while they both wear many of the same hats behind the scenes, they also bring two very different sets of strengths to VilleSide’s operations: Jabir having a knack for customer relations; Marck’s abilities including an aptness in the area of production management.

Equally important, Marck and Jabir are fully committed to the idea that running a joint business takes a combination of mutual effort, patience and understanding.

“To be successful you’ve got to be a team player.” Marck says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time we’re aligned—but every decision to make, we [still] talk about it before pulling the trigger.”

The resulting trust has not only become the foundation of their partnership but a crucial element in how they’ve grown their business over the years, with an emphasis on ensuring they always do right by their customers in terms of quality and service.

“We have exposure on social media, but we get a lot of our customers by word of mouth. They know that we don’t cut corners with our work” Jabir says.

“We want to make sure that the interactions with our customers are a hundred percent genuine. We make it a goal to make sure that every customer is satisfied.” Marck adds.

Partnerships and Decorated Apparel

Beyond that, they’ve found that it’s important to create and maintain robust connections featuring complete transparency with their business network as a whole, both as a means of garnering new customers or forming long-lasting partnerships with vendors.

This is reflected not only in their financial success, but the company’s relationship with the Somerville community as a whole, where they regularly partner with local service organizations, like Somerville Road Runners, a group dedicated to providing an inclusive environment for members to enjoy the experience of running.

“Growing up in Somerville, I knew I wanted to bring something to the community,” Jabir says of this aspect of his business philosophy and the way it affects how they do things at VilleSide Customs.

Barudan multi-head embroidery machine

A brand-new multi-head embroidery machine serves as evidence of VilleSide’s continued growth and desire to do things in-house.

The company’s emphasis on its relationships with customers and suppliers proved especially important during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the business suffered financially, Marck and Jabir found that by increasing the importance of online orders they were able to continue operating. As part of this effort, Jabir also hosted a series of live Facebook sessions with a number of customers to not only assure them of the business’s strength, but chat and build human connections in a time of isolation.

Additionally, they partnered with and advocated for a number of other local businesses in order to ensure they all stayed afloat. The result has been a tight-knit network of business owners they know they can call on in time of need. “We learned a lot about ourselves,” Jabir says of those challenging times.

In terms of the nuts and bolts of the business, when Jabir started out in 2008, he had a GS-24 Roland vinyl cutter, a laptop and a heat press. When Marck came aboard and the two acquired their current Somerville storefront as part of their commitment to establishing the business, they invested in two M&R Sportsman six-station autos and an M&R dryer and conveyor belt. They also installed a Workhorse Products exposure unit to further boost efficiency and production capacity.

Branching out into Embroidery

Most recently, they installed a new Barudan multi-head embroidery machine to accommodate the company’s growing embroidery business. During a recent visit, the Barudan was in a middle of a job for nearby Tufts University—evidence of the revenue potential with this kind of decorating tech. In the beginning, VilleSide consisted of Jabir, Marck and three other employees. Today the company employs no less than seven full- and part-time staff.

Of course, with change comes opportunities but also hardships. And as is the case with many small businesses, Marck and Jabir have, on occasion, not only found themselves pushing themselves to the limit in an effort to increase profitability, but hustling to stay afloat.

“We are a mid-six-figure-a-year company, and at the start of business we weren’t making enough to cover our salaries together,” Marck says of the challenges he and Jabir faced early on. “But we kept pushing.”

The good news is all that work is clearly paying off, and a decade after forming their partnership VilleSide Customs is now among the largest custom print shops in the town of Somerville. Marck and Jabir have also been featured in a number of interviews highlighting the work they’ve done both with and for organizations across the Boston area.

Looking ahead, the pair have a number of goals in mind, including staying busy; fostering the company’s existing business relationships; and continuing to expand the company’s abilities and capabilities, as is evident in their recent Barudan purchase. At present the products and services VilleSide offer include screen printing, embroidery, retail apparel and adhesive stickers. While Marck and Jabir recognize some orders require outsourcing, they prefer the assurance of doing as much of the work as possible in-house to ensure their costumers get what they both want and need.

As for the many lessons they have learned since going into business together, Marck says, “Having the right business partner means everything. Get a team that is here for the growth of the business and get rid of the lazy, unmotivated people. I honestly couldn’t have gotten this far without [Jabir] and will always give him credit throughout our future success, as we watch VilleSide Customs flourish and continually grow year after year while walking at a steady pace.”

“Without failure, you’re not going to see success. Be resilient,” Jabir says. Beyond that, he adds, “Once the heat comes, I know I have Marck with me.”