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In the past two years, I have taught thousands of people how to screen print with my online screen printing courses but I rarely get to meet my students. Lucky for me, a local screen printing shop recently reached out after taking my Screen Printing with Vinyl online course. I was excited to hear their story and learn how my screen printing course helped them in their business.
Owners of Gusto Graphic Tees in Leander, Texas, Kelli and Amy, have been screen printing shirts since 2016. Kelli’s background in graphic design has helped them turn her ideas into original Texas themed t-shirt designs and they have grown their brand into a thriving business that is taking Texas by storm.
You can find Gusto Graphic Tees in the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport among many other local stores and markets.
Many of the crafters who take my course are just getting started with screen printing but Gusto Graphic Tees is not my typical student. They are unique because they are running a big shop with fully automatic screen printing machines.
I recently interviewed Kelli about her journey from starting a screen printing business in her home to growing into a 2500 square foot business space. I hope hearing the answers to these questions will inspire you to “Go for the Gusto” and start that business you’ve been putting off.
How did you choose your business name?
In a dream that followed the recent passing of my father, his words echoed in my mind, resonating deeply within my soul: “Go for the Gusto, Kelli, Go for the Gusto.” His powerful message became an unwavering beacon guiding my journey towards a new career that ignited my passion. With heartfelt gratitude, I chose to honor his lasting influence by naming our business Gusto Graphic Tees. This name serves as a constant reminder that I am on the right path, embracing the work I was meant to do. I find solace in knowing that my father's spirit watches over me, radiating a proud smile as I follow my dreams.
How did your first customers find you?
I took the initiative to reach out to several local Austin stores, eagerly sharing our unique designs. To our delight, a local chain store promptly responded, expressing their interest. Following a productive meeting, they placed a significant order, marking a pivotal moment that allowed me to take the leap and bid farewell to my previous job. While still refining my screen printing skills, Amy, my incredible partner, stepped in during her Thanksgiving break, single-handedly printing the entire order.
Buoyed by the success of that major order, we became familiar faces at the SoCo Farmers Market on South Congress in Austin, where we eagerly showcased our designs to a diverse crowd of both locals and tourists in search of a distinctive souvenir.
We have since expanded our business primarily by selling wholesale. We established a presence on Faire, a platform that has helped us reach customers across the state and even nationwide, expanding our reach beyond what we could have accomplished independently.
We also rent a small space in a boutique where we pay monthly rent and a small percentage of each sale.
How have you incorporated screen printing with vinyl into your shop?
Amy successfully completed your screen printing with vinyl class earlier this year, aiming to facilitate quick and small print runs primarily for personal use and gifting purposes, but also when we have already reclaimed the screen and find it unnecessary to recreate it for just one shirt. Her first attempt was creating a Super Bowl shirt, which turned out fantastic. Utilizing the vinyl as a template and following your ink recipes, she achieved the perfect color match.
Using vinyl for printing sample shirts can be a cost-effective option, especially when you want to test designs before committing to a large production run. It allows you to gauge the market response and determine which designs resonate with your target audience.
Additionally, using vinyl to determine ink colors for designs is a smart approach. Colors can sometimes appear differently on a computer screen compared to how they look on actual fabric. By creating squares or thick lines using vinyl and then printing with different colors, you can get a better sense of how the ink will appear on the fabric, helping you make more informed decisions about color choices.
Printing sample shirts also offers the advantage of capturing actual photographs of the shirts. These photographs can be used on our website and social media platforms like Instagram. Real-life images of the shirts, with or without someone wearing them, can give potential customers a better understanding of how the designs look in reality and help them make purchase decisions.
Additionally, we utilize the vinyl process to imprint our logo on boxes, as well as create inserts for can coolers and keychain hang tags.
How did you know it was time to move out of your home setup into a dedicated shop?
After six years of steadily building our business, bolstered by the unwavering support of our amazing customers and local stores, the time had come for a significant milestone. We made the decision to move into a dedicated, 2500 square foot, business space. This move allowed us to elevate our operations to new heights by investing in upgraded equipment, including an eight-platen, six-color automated ROQ press, a larger conveyor dryer, and a Glowforge laser cutter.
As we navigated the journey of growth, we recognized the signs that it was time to transition into a dedicated space. Our house had gradually transformed into a makeshift warehouse, with boxes of t-shirts constantly flowing in and out, making it increasingly challenging to navigate our own living space. The expansion of our business had reached a point where demand outpaced our capacity to fulfill orders efficiently. To address this, we made the crucial decision to invest in an automated machine, enabling us to expedite order processing and meet customer expectations with greater ease.
How has your graphic design background played a part in your business? Any tips for a beginner who wants to create their own designs?
As a graphic designer turned entrepreneur, my background has proved invaluable in driving the success of my business. The ability to conceive an idea and bring it to life through screen printing has granted me full creative control. Gone are the days of waiting for others to execute my vision—now, the entire process rests in my hands. Additionally, the flexibility to create mockups has been instrumental in exploring various color combinations and design concepts before committing to screen printing.
For aspiring designers looking to embark on their own creative journey, I highly recommend taking online classes to familiarize yourself with Adobe Illustrator. This software has become my go-to tool for designing, because of its many features and functionality.
If you're just starting out and have questions or seek guidance, I'm more than happy to lend a helping hand. Feel free to reach out, and I'll gladly share my insights and experiences to assist you on your creative path.
Remember, the key is to nurture your passion, embrace continuous learning, and unleash your imagination. With dedication and a willingness to explore, you can unlock your full creative potential and create designs that truly resonate with others. Best of luck on your design journey!
What has been the biggest challenge to starting/running a screen printing business?
While my creative journey has been immensely fulfilling, I must admit that the business side of running a business has presented its fair share of challenges. Tasks such as managing taxes, creating budgets, navigating social media, marketing strategies, and mastering SEO have proven to be areas where I've encountered obstacles.
Tackling these business-oriented responsibilities has required me to step outside my comfort zone and learn new skills. It's an ongoing process of growth and adaptation, where I've had to seek resources, educate myself, and sometimes even enlist the support of professionals in specialized areas. Embracing the business aspects has been a crucial part of ensuring the overall success and sustainability of my venture.
I understand firsthand the difficulties that can arise when balancing creativity and the demands of running a business. It's essential to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses, recognizing that it's okay to seek assistance or guidance when needed. Surrounding myself with a network of professionals, mentors, and like-minded entrepreneurs has been instrumental in overcoming these challenges.
What advice would you give to someone that is eager to start a screen printing business?
When it comes to building a successful business, it's crucial to remember that steady growth often outweighs the allure of immediate expansion. In our own journey, we've experienced firsthand the transformative impact of upgrading our space and equipment. However, it's important to note that we didn't begin with lavish facilities and top-of-the-line machinery. Our humble beginnings consisted of a single-platen, 4-color press and a flash dryer set up in our single-car garage.
By taking deliberate steps and gradually investing in improved resources, we have witnessed remarkable progress and embraced the opportunities that come with scaling our business.
Remember, the journey is as important as the destination. Enjoy the process, savor the lessons, and celebrate every milestone along the way. As you grow and evolve, may you find fulfillment in doing what you love and inspire others to embark on their own remarkable journeys.
Here's to the pursuit of passion, the pursuit of dreams, and the unwavering belief that with dedication and perseverance, anything is possible.