Yellowstone T-Shirt Co. began in 1977 as a modest 720-square-foot building on Main Street in West Yellowstone, Montana, near Yellowstone National Park.FULL STORY
Build Your Business: Shop Talk
Faith and Fortune
In September 2012, 21-year-old Josiah Blackmore had hit rock bottom. A part-time worker at what he terms a “dead-end job,” Blackmore was searching for something more — his calling. He says a radical spiritual encounter gave him the direction he needed, and the rest unfolded naturally.
“I knew there was something special that God wanted to do with the next 40-plus years of my life, but I didn’t know what that was,” Blackmore says. “I asked God continually to show me what path he wanted me to take for the rest of my life.”
Blackmore regularly shared his faith with others and sought a T-shirt that captured the heart of what he believed. Admitting that Christian-themed T-shirts were notorious for being “lame,” he created one that he liked. With no artistic skills and limited materials, he covered a shirt in Bible verses with a permanent marker.
“With a blank Hanes T-shirt, a red Sharpie for Jesus’ words and a black one for the rest, I covered every square inch of a shirt in random Bible verses,” he says. “As I wore my shirt around, people would ask me what it said. It gave me a perfect opportunity to share my story.”
Blackmore imagined his shirt printed in every language, in different styles and colors, each bearing different messages. As luck — or perhaps “fate” would be the better term — would have it, he shared his story with an acquaintance two weeks later who became so inspired that he gave Blackmore all of his unused screen-printing equipment for free. This included a one-station/four-color press; about 15 gallons of ink; 30 screens; an exposure unit; a flash unit; squeegees; chemicals; various tools; and about 500 blank shirts.
Blackmore took this donation as the blessing he had been awaiting. The rest of his life, he says, was decided.
Wheels in Motion
Six months after receiving his life-changing donation, Blackmore connected with business incubator incuba8LABS, which offered to host his screen-printing shop in downtown Midland, Michigan, rent-free for the first two years. And the good fortune didn’t stop there; the previous owner of the website, redthreads.com, also relinquished the name for free.
The term “threads” has long been popular slang for “clothing,” but Blackmore describes Red Threads as a concept — the common thread that draws people together. “I chose the name because Jesus is the Red Thread,” he says.
While incuba8LABS showed Blackmore the importance of being business-minded, he learned screen printing from scratch, using YouTube videos, trial and error, Ryonet educational videos and industry forums as training tools.
While scouring one forum, Blackmore became familiar with veteran screen printer Richard Greaves, whom he called for advice. Greaves now is Blackmore’s screen-printing mentor, helping him to hone his craft and get connected with people who can take his business to the next level.
“God keeps sending huge miracles my way,” he says. “Last Christmas, I received a heat press, hat press, mug press, sublimation printers, vinyl cutters and loads of shirt-printing stock – for free – from a stranger who used to run a printing business, but left and donated his equipment.”
Red Threads is a one-man operation offering custom apparel printing. Blackmore relies on a team of advisors and volunteers who donate their time on a weekly basis, including a press operator and Blackmore’s girlfriend, who does bookeeping for about two hours a week. Clients are comprised mostly of churches, schools, businesses or individuals who need custom T-shirts.
“We specialize in plastisol screen printing for our local community and their T-shirt printing needs, all while driving toward the vision of becoming a specialized fashion-printing shop with discharge, water-based and specialty inks,” Blackmore says.
Learning bookkeeping was an important part of Blackmore’s training and he still uses the same Excel spreadsheet system today that he created in the beginning. He spent two years in the incubator program learning how to handle quotes, invoices, budgeting, social media, Adobe Illustrator and other things a business owner must know.
Red Threads operates two single-station, four-color presses and a homemade flip-table exposure unit with a 39″ x 47″ exposure area. The shop also includes a homemade washout booth with backlights; homemade screen-drying racks; a variable-speed dryer; heat and hat presses; a Roland cutter; a sublimation printer and more.
A Different Mindset
Blackmore offers the following advice to new decorators: “Other people are your most important asset,” he says. “Place relationships at the top of your list of values. Focus on creating a great product, and then immediately turn into a salesman. Your sales skills are what will grow your business financially.”
Future plans for Red Threads include an immediate equipment upgrade, including a Vastex EC1 54-inch dryer and a Lawson six-color/four-station Beta manual screen-printing press.
“I’m also building a one-armed bandit [manual screen-printing machine] to print my allover prints,” he says.
Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at email@example.com.
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