The Print Shop Life & Summer Internship at SustainU

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Written by Micah Allen (shop employee, summer intern & WVU Business Marketing student)

Do you ever wonder what happens between the stages of shirt design to shirt-in-hand? Well, there is a journey behind every shirt made here at SustainU! The journey consists of many procedures and steps that most people probably wouldn’t think about. Here is a look inside the printing process of our shirts after the design and planning stage is over.

Prepping Screens:

Our screens are pre-meshed, aluminum framed and are coated with emulsion. EMULSION is a coating that, when dried, keeps ink from running through the screen. Before we can print shirts, screens must also be “burned” to hold the design of the print.

BURNING A SCREEN consists of shining a UV light underneath a screen that is taped up with a film positive; this film positive will have the image or part of the image that we want to create, and this stage uses a special machine we have here at SustainU. The UV light essentially hardens the emulsion surrounding the film positive and leaves what’s under the film positive soft so that it can be easily washed away in our washroom. What’s left is the exact image we want to be printed onto our shirts. Complex and/or multi-colored designs require multiple screens. In these cases, each screen will hold a separate part of a whole print as well as separate colors. (see below).

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Following the burning stage, screens are rinsed, dried and taped up (sides are taped to keep ink from coming through). After these stages, the screen(s) is now ready to be set up on one of our printing machines!

Setup:

Each burned screen print is accompanied with registration marks. These marks help us line up the print so that it is centered and straight (see below).

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Prints that require multiple screens and/or colors are lined up so that the final print image is created. This sometimes requires an “eyeball” test to make sure that there are not gaps within the print image. Multiple test prints are conducted to make sure the perfect print image is created.

Once everything is lined up, the screens are locked into place and registration marks are taped up so they do not show on the final shirts. Each screen slot on the machine is then equipped with a flood bar, squeegee and appropriate ink color (see below), before one last test print is conducted, and then its go time!

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Printing:

Our printing machines consist of our newer machine, the RPM (Real Performance Machinery), and our older machine, the Brown ElectraPrint. These machines do not operate fully on their own. It takes workers to program, put shirts on, take shirts off, make sure enough ink is flowing and that each shirt/print is coming out correctly. We have specific names for some of these positions that will make sense once described.

driverDriver (left) – Timely and carefully places shirts on the printing machine; also responsible for controlling the printing machine, hence the given name “driver.”

 

 

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Passenger (left) – Carefully removes shirts off of the printing machine as they have finished printing; the passenger, who stands next to the driver, is responsible for checking the shirts and passing them through the dryer, which cures the shirts so that the print is permanently stuck to the shirt.

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Caboose 
(right)
– The employee(s) at the caboose position stands at the end of the shirt dryer and removes shirts that have passed through; the final person(s) responsible for checking the print/shirt for errors and fixes; also responsible for counting shirts and matching the number to the order; gets its name from being the last position in the printing, somewhat “train,” process; then, shirts are packed up and sent out to the respected customer.

The People:

SustainU’s print shop has given a great employment opportunity for locals living in the surrounding areas of Morgantown, as well as West Virginia University students who major or are interested in graphic design, or that just want to experience something different.

The shop has a friendly, upbeat feel to it, and all employees who work directly with the printing dress in old jeans and T-shirts that you wouldn’t mind getting dirty since the job can get a little messy. Somedays, the print shop can hold its different challenges, but that’s what helps make working here unique.

It’s a rewarding experience being a part of the SustainU’s printing team because one week you will be printing shirts that are going right down the street to a local brewery, and the next you could be printing shirts for MLB teams across the country or for one of the largest concerts in the nation like Lollapalooza.

It’s a cool feeling to know that these shirts are going to so many different places and that you had a hand in every shirt that leaves here. You get to view the final product before it leaves as well, and that’s a type of satisfaction that you don’t always get somewhere else.

Summer Internship Recap:

I really hope you have enjoyed this look inside SustainU’s print shop. I have spent over two years working in the print shop and had the great opportunity of interning this summer under Jordan, our Online Marketing and Sales Manager.

Currently, I am about to head into my last semester at West Virginia University, where I am a Business Marketing Major. Before I started my internship, I was asked to come up with some projects that I wanted to work on and two ideas that stuck out to me were tapping into a new social media area as well as somehow shining a light on the printing that happens at SustainU, so, that’s exactly what I did!

SustainU already has an array of social media areas that we use, so it took some researching and thinking outside the box. Ultimately, I decided to start a Flickr account for the company. I have always enjoyed taking pictures, so I thought this was a great area for us to showcase our shirts, designs and attended events, like FanFest. I looked at this as being more of an area for presenting an online portfolio of our work and less of an advertising space, although it is still good advertising. Please, feel free to check it out here: SustainU Flickr.

My other main project this summer was writing this blog post to help tell the story of how our shirts are printed. I thought it was important for us to tell people exactly how are shirts are printed as well as give some recognition to the people that work hard to get it done. A lot of times, I feel that people forget about the smaller labor jobs within companies that are equally as important to making a company successful. SustainU has done a great job at supporting everyone that they employ and creating a family bound that you want to be a part of.

Overall, I am grateful for both the opportunities that SustainU has provided for me. They have helped me create stability during a confusing time and allowed me to expand my knowledge through this internship, all while still being a student. Being able to watch this company grow over the years has been a great educational experience in itself. I never thought I would become a somewhat amateur expert in the area of screen printing T-shirts, but I have, and it is a skill that I will remember forever—no matter where I end up next.

The most exciting part about my experience working at SustainU is that you get to be a part of something new that is having a positive impact on our society and is also leading a change within the apparel industry.

University of Notre Dame Student’s Wild and Wonderful Experience Through Summer Internship at SustainU

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SustainU Summer Intern, Madeline Hagan, from the University of Notre Dame

My internship with SustainU was part of a Social Enterprise and Microfinance Internship, through the University of Notre Dame. It sounds like a lot of business jargon but, at the end of the day, the goal is really just to see how we, as a society and as individuals, can use businesses to beneficially impact our surrounding environment.

Going into this summer, I was excited to work for a company who had recently partnered with Major League Baseball and was also developing potential partnerships with other professional sports organizations. I was confident that Notre Dame was going to send all of us interns to companies that constantly strive to be sustainable and socially beneficial, but the athletic aspect of SustainU is what really drew me toward them.

However, what made me enjoy working here the most was the work ethic of the people and their unwavering commitment. They pour their hearts and souls into this company, and opened their doors to both me and my dog, Casey, who quickly became the work “therapy dog.” If you’re reading this blog then you probably have, at least some, previous knowledge of SustainU’s mission to change the way clothes are made to improve the environment, reinvigorate America’s manufacturing sector and educate the world about how clothing can positively impact people’s lives. That summed up the extent of my knowledge about SustainU before I started working here. But, as is typical when you start living and working somewhere, I absorbed much more about SustainU than the mission statement as well as what makes it more than just another T-shirt company.

I now know how to use a tagging gun and folding machine, and how to pitch an idea, analyze the potential financial success of a project, navigate windy roads filled with potholes, and run to my car without any cicadas landing on me (which are less “Wild and Wonderful” and more “Eighth Plague of Egypt”).

I’ve learned the process behind a product, which I think is incredibly valuable both as a consumer and as an intern. Perhaps slightly less relevant, but equally spectacular, is the fact that I have gone on stunning hikes through some of the most ecologically diverse forests in the USA.

But, most importantly, I’ve experienced that regional change doesn’t happen overnight… It starts with an idea, which, in this case, turned into a small business and a group of people working to improve their home.

There are many misconceptions about Appalachia, many stereotypes imparted on those who live in the Appalachian region by the rest of the nation (myself included, before I actually lived here for two months). These stereotypes are a barrier, which SustainU is trying to bust through by sustainably supporting the Appalachian economy. I am very grateful that I was able to, at least for a small time, be a part of the efforts SustainU is making to change how America views both Appalachia and sustainable clothing. Additionally, I am thankful for everything I have learned and experienced this summer, especially for the opportunity to work side by side with so many incredible people. All in all, I would say the past eight weeks have indeed been wild and wonderful.

MLB by SustainU Tees featuring REALTREE® Camouflage — Now Available on Cabelas.com

National pride, environmental conservation and USA manufacturing are some of the core identifiers of American sportsmen and women. That’s why we found it important to represent the values of American hunters and anglers by partnering with both Cabela’s and REALTREE®.

The “Conserve/Nation Collection” by SustainU featuring REALTREE® camouflage is now available online at Cabelas.com! You can view/shop these shirts on their website by clicking here: Cabela’s MLB Fan Shop.  (Screenshot of site pictured below).

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Cabela’s MLB Fan Shop Homepage featuring Our REALTREE® Tees

“SustainU understands how important conservation and USA manufacturing are to the American hunter and angler,” said Chris Yura, founder and CEO of SustainU. “Our ‘Conserve/Nation Collection’ of REALTREE® and MLB prints allows sportsmen and women to represent their passions while staying true to their values.”

Combining the experts in camouflage with fan-focused logos and marks, we’ve created apparel for this collection that perfectly blends performance with the ethics of the modern outdoorsperson. Teams from both of MLB’s National League and American League will be featured in the collection. Certain styles/teams pictured below include: Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.

New Realtree camo Cabelas option

If you’re someone who loves camo fashion, then you’ll want to be placing your purchase order today!

Begin your search through our REALTREE® Camo Tees today: Click Here to browse. 

To view/shop our shirts on Cabela’s website, Click Here.

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“Capturing the Appalachian Attitude” by Chris Yura

For our latest photo shoot, we knew that capturing the feel of SustainU’s new product line called for an iconic Appalachian setting. So, we hit the road for the confluence of culture that is Asheville, NC – one of the coolest towns in the world that represents some of the best of Appalachia.

Nestled like a gem in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Asheville has become a blueprint for Appalachian revitalization. By celebrating its rich history and integrating the latest in cuisine, entertainment and lifestyle, this is a town that, once experienced, always calls you back. We were fortunate to incorporate these treasured assets in our latest photo shoot.

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Springtime in the mountains is hard to compete with, no matter where you are from. It is a celebration of everything green and alive. It seems the mountains themselves are blooming, the rains deepen the tone of each tree and plant, people are happy, and life is good!

We had the opportunity to shoot some of our photos in the newest section of the Green Man Brewery. This location has about everything you would want from a craft beer bar. The atmosphere is awesome; a homey, modern bar mixed with a natural art gallery. Repurposed wood and piping made into furniture phonemes, an indoor river rock garden and plenty of quality, craft beer all for your Green Man enjoyment. This place is amazing and the people are even better!

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Paying tribute to the artesian culture of Asheville, we decided that the River Arts District would provide an appropriate backdrop. This section of town is a must-see. Tucked away in a corner of town, down beside the railroad track lays some pretty impressive graffiti art. This spot intuitively represents an intersection of old industry, new concepts (there is a hummus factory, Roots Hummus, across the street!) This mountain town bleeds creativity.

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The images that resulted from our weekend trip are a combination of incredible physical locations and human talent. The crew that styled, photographed and modeled for our shoot were all pros and made this experience even better than we could have planned. Thank you!

We hope you enjoy the pictures we amassed during our way-too-short trip around this Blue Ridge Mountain beauty. Please continue to support communities like Asheville, which are using its natural assets, incredible artists and rich heritage to support our incredible region.

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“A Case for Appalachia” by SustainU CEO, Chris Yura

A West Virginian Son’s Journey
As an Appalachian native, it is hard to articulate the sense of pride and protectiveness I have toward my state.

Inspiration comes to each of us differently. The soothing and addictive attributes of West Virginia have always provided an unending well of creative and spiritual nourishment. They also produced a longing in me that has called me from afar saying, “Come home.”

Initially, I left my home state for college and career opportunities, but my goal was always to come back. After a decade away, I received some entrepreneurial inspiration and decided it was time to make my way back home and start a small business.

In 2008, pitching an apparel company that would use USA Manufacturing and Recycled Textile Technology was not an easy idea. But thanks to my family and close family friends, encouragement triumphed over my trepidation and I eventually moved back home. Quite literally, I was living in Manhattan before my move back to WV. As a struggling entrepreneur, my parents’ house is all I could afford. I praise God for my amazing family and their incredible generosity and encouragement. And, as it turned out, the idea wasn’t as farfetched or out of reach as it seemed.

Fast forward seven years to today, and SustainU just launched its first line with Major League Baseball to provide millennial-focused apparel made in a unique and sustainable way. This concept (and now company) has retained and created jobs in traditional industries in both the South and Appalachia. I want to share this vision because I believe there are incredible opportunities for employment and community reinvestment in Appalachia.

Unapologetically Appalachian
I am often asked, “Why did you go back?” or “Why do you stay?” Misconceptions about Appalachia are as old as the region. National stereotypes of Appalachian people seem to have unfortunately been deemed socially acceptable, even with the rise of political correctness.

Stereotypes have forced Appalachians to stick together, creating communities that are incredibly tight-knit, loyal and selfless. But, this stigma has also given many West Virginians a false, negative self-image that has divided our thinking on the future of the state. Some have adopted a more closed off mindset to some areas of change. This stubbornness can be hurtful for future generations when we do not take steps to actively encourage entrepreneurism across various disciplines.

My hope is that this generation can help break free from this cycle with a renewed state pride around optimism and the welcoming of new ideas. The new identity of West Virginia and other Appalachian states should be one that embraces its hardworking past and encourages out-of-the box thinking from within its non-uniform borders.

Brief History of Appalachia
Timbers from Appalachian forests helped frame our country from a group of colonies to an independent nation. Once the forests had been conquered, mineral extraction became the hidden fruit of the region. Buried in beautiful canyons and along majestic ridge lines, the power source of the 20th century lay in waiting.

The coal mines of Appalachia fed the steel mills of the North, creating incredible public works and critical infrastructure across the nation. These bridges, buildings and tunnels connected people previously separated by natural barriers throughout the country and helped an economic food chain create some of the more diverse communities in the United States within the mountains and hollows of the coalfields.

Exploitation of both human and environmental capital has been too common of a practice for the residents and resources of Appalachia.  Environmental barriers  first isolated this region but since the Civil War it has been economic isolation that has since afflicted WV.

Coal companies owned towns and communities, from homes to the currency used by worker residents. Some coal operators employed the cheapest, fastest method for extraction, no matter the environmental and social impact. Many of these communities were used for their natural gifts, and then left for cheaper labor and cleaner coal without a contingency plan for its residents. As this exodus of industry continues to play out in West Virginia, more than ever, these communities are in need of hope and a renewed spirit.

A Case for Appalachia and SustainU
I believe that there are inherent advantages and strategic opportunities waiting to be uncovered in the towns and communities of West Virginia. I believe Appalachia can lead in ways not yet fully realized.

My hope is that businesses like SustainU can help shed light on the potential of Appalachia. In the 21st century, places like WV will become vital to the needs of a growing country and world population.

Our state possesses assets that will continue to increase in value in the global market. Here are three very brief examples:

  • FOOD – Family farms that have been left behind can become agricultural incubators for the dietary needs of the United States and the world. Agricultural Innovation can be a game changer for Appalachia and we have the farms to do it. Land that once was mined can be repurposed through innovative reclamation practices. West Virginians are accustomed to providing critical resources to our nation, and in the next fifty years this skill could be applied to food.
  • LOCATION – Many places in WV are located within nine driving hours of two-thirds of the US population. From a distribution and manufacturing prospective, WV could be the most ideal hub of the 21st Century for fast fulfillment. In addition, the access to major waterways and the close proximity to major harbors allows this region to be ideal for exportation to global destinations.
  • WATER – 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages in some portion of their states over the next decade. WV contains major rivers and headwaters, and the incredible importance of water cannot be overstated. Watersheds in WV that can be rejuvenated will reap both economic and incredible social benefit.

Today, we should not abandon the natural gifts we have been given (including coal and natural gas), but the days of exploitation have to end.

Stewardship for the residents, landscape and waterways of Appalachia can no longer be a secondary thought. We should lead with holistic sustainability as this services both the needs of today and those of our future generations.

As we transition into new industries we need to be extremely sensitive to the social, economic and environmental needs of the communities that first molded our state. How we respond to the problems and prospects of the coming years will be remembered by future generations.

We take incredible pride in our lineage because of its legacy of hard work, resiliency and service to our communities and our nation. With the encroachment of the unknown, we should stay.

Instead of retreating to an easier path of the immediate, I urge Appalachian residents to rethink their region. The attributes you admire are available to you now and in this generation. It could be time for you stay where you are or come back home to be part of the solution.