Build Your Business:

Pushing Boundaries

Culture Studio’s production arsenal — multiple automatic screen-printing presses, manual presses and direct-to-garment printers — provides versatility in apparel decorating.

March 19, 2015

The secret is simple, really, according to Rich Santo. Success not only comes when you can creatively and efficiently deliver on promises to your customers, but also when can push the limits.

Culture Studio, the Chicago-based company Santo founded in 2008, offers a variety of products and services, ranging from garment sourcing, creative design and high-end screen printing to discharge, water-based and specialty printing. It also offers embroidery, sublimation, fulfillment and distribution.

But to Santo’s point, perhaps the most important thing Culture Studio offers its clients is reliability for producing products that speak for the brand. The 50,000-square-foot shop quickly can adjust production for its clients’ needs. For example, on one press it may be printing super-poly ink on high-performance fabrics for a license holder and on another, an oversized discharge print. “Our clients love the innovation we have brought to the ordering process and always seem pleased when we offer a new product or service to make us more of an asset,” says Santo, who also is president of the company.

The Culture Studio concept started as a lifestyle brand called Chii, a high-end T-shirt line sold in stores across the country. “We were pushing the limits on our printers and manufacturers,” Santo recalls. “In our experience, while working with other printers in the U.S., we always were hit with a big, bold ‘no’ whenever we asked to do anything innovative. They would say, ‘We can’t do that.’ We also saw a major void in customer service and ease of ordering.”

Today, Culture Studio, which boasts 60 employees, features the latest and greatest in decorating technology. The facility is loaded with an assortment of equipment the company uses to fulfills orders, from multiple Challenger and Sportsman screen-printing presses, to Legend direct-to-screen systems, numerous embroidery heads and direct-to-garment printers. By having full immersion into its clients’ brands, the company can deliver products that reflect their visions. Along with its work in multiple apparel sectors,Culture Studio also focuses on the music and direct-to-retail industries. Some of its most notable clients include brands like Absolut, Ford, Illusive Apparel, Live Nation and Threadless.

“It’s great when your customers truly feel a sense of trust and reliability when they submit an order to us,” Santo says. “They know even if something gets missed or overlooked, we are the ‘make-it-happen’ guys. We never let them down, even if it means putting somebody on a plane to Las Vegas to make a show by 8 a.m.”

Along with providing customer confidence, Santo says today’s shop owners have to be smart about how they handle their business — especially with the way the economy challenged the process.

“The advice I would give other shop owners is to uphold your pricing structure,” Santo says. “Every day, we hear about another shop that will do [a job] for half the price. Our employees put so much passion and dedication into making a great print, and we feel they should be compensated for it.”  

Santo is a big believer in the power of his team. That’s why he is always conscious of the best advice he ever received, a quote that still hangs on a giant canvas in his office: “Creating a system that enables employees to achieve great things often comes down to the work of a single leader.”  

“We do many psychological studies on our production floor and it never fails that if a manager is adamant about something, such as packing boxes largest size on the bottom, every single one of his team members will have the exact same answer when asked how to pack a box,” Santo says. “On the other hand, if the leader isn’t very particular on how to pack, each of his direct reports will not know the answer or [will] have conflicting answers.”

For a company that does it all — in an industry that is full of diversity — Santo says every order offers a unique and fulfilling experience. In fact, the job he remembers the most is the one Culture Studio wasn’t even supposed to get. After two rounds of sampling on a 12-color photograph piece it sent to a prospective client, Santo was told his company didn’t get the job.

No worries; you move to the next one, right? Well, maybe that’s what everyone else does, but not Santo. That evening, he and his team, including brothers Joey (vice president of production) and Nick (director of operations) and Carlo Oviedo (vice president of sales and operations), worked through the night to redo the artwork and resample the job. They printed hundreds of samples, burning screen after screen. After completing a piece at which they thought the prospective client would marvel, they sent an overnight delivery.

Two days later, three semi trucks were sent to the Culture Studio docks to fulfill the T-shirt order. “There was no way we were going to lose a job, and [we] put all our heart into winning it back,” Santo says. “And we won.”

In an ever-changing industry, where fads and trends constantly change how the game is played, Santo and company are seeing new materials in garments that may pose problems for screen printers
down the road.

“We believe that the garment manufacturers will continue working with printers to increase printability.”

As for 2015, Culture Studio is planning for big things. Moving from its 9,000-square-foot facility into a more spacious location has helped improve overall processes and workflow. “Technology and innovating the ordering process will continue to keep us at the top of the game,” Santo says. “The marketplace will continue to grow significantly, as most experts are predicting our economy being very strong in the next three years.”

As of press time, the most pressing item on the company’s to-do list is the imminent launch of its e-commerce solution, which will enable all its clients to place orders online.

Otherwise, Culture Studio will keep doing what it does best: pushing the limits of its industry.

Michael J. Pallerino 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 Michael at

Culture Studio At A Glance

Company Name: Culture Studio
Address: 1151 W. 40th St. Chicago, IL 60609
Founded: 2008
No. of Employees: 60
Services Offered: Screen printing, embroidery, direct-to-garment printing, sublimation, fulfillment, garment sourcing, creative design
Company Website: