My husband has been fascinated with screen printing for years, and that’s why I was so excited to find that TS Designs would be open to having us come and tour their facility.
We soon learned more than we ever expected.
Eric Michel, Chief of Tech and Logistics, kicked off our tour with a history of the company. TS Designs started out as a standard screen-printing company back in the late 70s, and business was strong as they printed shirts for companies like Gap and Nike. When these major companies began taking their business overseas after NAFTA, president Eric Henry knew he had to make changes. He and fellow founder Tom Sineath changed their focus to what they call the 3 Ps: People, the Planet, and Profit. With this as their motto, they jumped on board the green movement.
That’s when the Cotton of the Carolinas line was born. This new line features cotton from local farmers, and it’s processed into shirts locally, too. Eric passed around samples of the cotton at each stage of the process so the kids could feel and examine it. There are more steps than I had imagined!
This is a really fascinating process, and TS Designs works with experts. Want to know more? Watch this clip of their UNC TV Special here.
Now printing for a smaller customer base, TS Designs no longer needed to print hundreds of thousands of shirts at a time. Instead, they needed to be able to keep a smaller amount of inventory on hand. Since most screen printers print on the color of the shirt desired, this caused a problem, as TS Designs didn’t want to keep shirts in every color in storage. Instead, they developed a new technology that would allow them to dye the shirts after being printed. Even now, they’re the only printers they know of using this REHANCE technology.
Then we were on the move: out onto the factory floor, where we learned about how the giant screen printing presses operate. In full production mode, each one takes several people to operate and can print a shirt every six seconds. Wow!
The kids were full of questions about the printing presses, the screens, and the large drying machines we saw on the floor. Who knew screen printing required so much equipment?
After that social media queen Jen Busfield took over. She taught us about the variety of ways that TS Designs employs to keep their company sustainably minded. TS Designs not only prints t-shirts that are completely local, but they use their property to benefit the community in many ways. They’re a drop-off station for fuel recycling, and they have a garden manned by the staff, too. Outside of the garden area is a bench that becomes the home for several bee hives come warm weather, and they’re tended by local beekeepers. The honey they share with TS Designs is then enjoyed by the employees. While the staff has enjoyed fresh eggs from chickens kept on the property in the past, a new local law made the hens relocate, but they have hopes of returning soon. They even have solar panels on the roof and an outside patio area for staff! It is obvious that TS Designs is working hard to be friendly not only to their customers and to their employees, but also to the planet as a whole.
I’ve never heard of a business diversifying in so many ways to be friendly to their environment. TS Designs might have started making these changes to stay afloat many years ago, but it’s obvious that it’s become a heart decision since that time, and we learned many things from them. Seeing a business care about its employees and environment in such concrete ways was refreshing.
Of course, at the very end of our tour, we headed to the Breakroom Boutique, where TS Designs sells extras and overruns for $5 each. We were able to find some great shirts – some designed by Mindful Supply, which are all super cute, and all featuring the REHANCE technology that makes even the printed area soft and pliable. This company is definitely doing good, and we’ll be hitting up this shop again.
Where have you field-tripped to learn something new?
While TS Designs is definitely the way to go to print shirts for your youth group, business, or special event, you can learn more about small-batch printing at home! Check out these resources: