In the years that Threadbare has specialized in screen printing, Boss Lady Baker has answered at least 100 calls with a phrase falling along the lines of, “We actually don’t offer embroidery, sorry.” Since the demand never seemed to end, we finally made the big investment and purchased an embroidery machine!

Photo of Threadbare’s New Embroidery Machine

We took up the craft in the beginning of 2021. Learning how to operate it had interesting moments, to say the least. Since we bought the machine during COVID, on-site techs weren’t available. Going into it with only Youtube as a guide wasn’t really an option, and so we found some helping hands nearby. After a quick training on another machine with the help of a local embroidery master (thank you, Janice!), our very own Sam Kiesse managed to get the machine operating. Though it took the better part of a month and caused a lot of headaches, this was a truly exciting achievement.

Up Close Embroidery of a Hat

Looking back on the process, one of the most important factors in our success was that we never ditched the idea at any point, regardless of our own stress and self-doubt. Since it was clear to us that many of our customers wanted embroidery, we knew that all of the headaches and trips to JoAnn Fabrics would be well worth it in the end!

By now, we’re at the so called “end” of that initial learning phase. One of Threadbare’s own, Lauren Hay, took up the task of running the embroidery machine. Since switching over from screen printing to embroidery, she’s been developing our knowledge and skill in this craft to ultimately produce high-quality stitches our customers will love.

While we feel much more confident in our embroidery abilities relative to the beginnings of this adventure, there’s still learning to be done! Sometimes a customer comes to us with a complicated design or special requests that require research, improvements, and test runs to accomplish the desired result. This canrequire a lot of time and troubleshooting. Just stitching one hat, for instance, can take approximately 30 minutes depending on the intricacy of the design. If there’s an issue in the embroidery or the design, we won’t know until the entire stitch is done. All in all, this can turn into quite a lengthy process.

Test-Stitch Hats for Troubleshooting Complex Embroidery

Although it has its tricky moments that surely make Lauren dream of replicating a certain scene from Office Space, we’re always devoting time and energy into improving the craft and creating professional-quality products. At the very least, we no longer doubt the purchase nor our own ability to master this new service!

Our shop has always been ran by staff that care about matters of social and environmental justice. For many Eugene locals that have already heard about Threadbare, it’s likely they’re aware of both our efforts in sustainability and our involvement in activism against discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, beliefs, abilities, or any other levels of an individual’s identity.

Put bluntly, this widespread awareness of our passion for social/environmental justice is based on our habit of giving a shit! When we see a group or organization that’s working hard for a good cause, we feel the need to lend a hand. This involvement includes, so far, hosting free, live printing for Eugene’s Women’s March of 2017-19; volunteering our time to print masks for the Black Student Union of North Eugene High School; and hosting online merch stores to help fundraise for projects like Marrow of the Mountain, Asians Arise, ShelterCare, and many others.

The involvement doesn’t stop at the level of our shop. The owner of Threadbare, Amy Baker, has visited Haiti to tour Allmade’s facilities and learn about the company’s positive social and environmental impact. As she recently joined Gildan’s Board of Directors to learn more about sustainability in garment production, Amy’s planning another outing to tour Gildan’s facilities in Honduras. Additionally, Amy worked with Oregon Supported Living Program via their Community Inclusion and Employment Program and is now on the board of directors at OSLP.

It feels a little icky to admit it, but being involved in fundraisers for non-profits, local activism, and sustainably-minded efforts has inevitably opened the doors to business we may not have landed. In all honesty, it has provided us with word-of-mouth advertising at a larger scale than anyone could have imagined. To this day, we still have customers that decide to do business with us because of our sustainable mindedness, involvement in activism, and strong ties with the local community! While this was never the original goal, we don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

At Threadbare, one of our core values is to embrace the unknown. This one’s a biggie, as it ends up creating a lot of opportunities for growth in our trade.

Embracing the unknown can include anything from screen printing on Yeti coolers to implementing an embroidery department with little-to-no previous knowledge of the craft. Sometimes, you just gotta trick yourself into thinking you can make it work, and then fake it till you make it!

Recently, we’ve embraced the unknown in some exciting ways. While our shop traditionally specializes in the water-based inks that provide those soft, vintage style prints, we’ve taken on vinyl heat pressing as a new option. Ultimately, this has allowed us to provide our customers with a new service: on-demand, heat pressed customizations.

So far, we’ve had the pleasure of heat pressing nicknames and other special requests onto the backs of the Bier Stein’s tees for one of their staff parties. It really made the tees extra special for each staff member!

Additionally, we were lucky enough to be able to offer on demand heat pressing at the 2021 Olympic Trials here in downtown Eugene, as well as gold/silver/bronze decals for some of the qualifiers. Using the metallic transfer material was extremely new for the team and initially gave them a hard time. Nonetheless, they went above and beyond to troubleshoot and, ultimately, complete the order!

While there’s been a learning curve, as there usually is with any new skill, the possibilities unlocked from taking on a new challenge are well worth the stress and uneasiness that often accompany new things!

As a small business, we’re particularly devoted to buying local whenever possible. Half of the places near our shop are actually current or past customers, so it’s only natural that we try and give them business! To us, we’re just paying it forward.

While buying local is mainly a philosophy to us, this business practice is actually quite critical as it brings benefits to the communities we live and work in. Just as consumers buying local more often can help boost their local economy, businesses can have the same impact (if not more) by purchasing from local businesses, too!

For Threadbare, paying it forward is never uneventful: bicycle pub tours with the folks at Pacific Pub Cycle, axe throwing sessions at Oregon Axe, staff appreciation nights at Oakshire (with the after party at Oregon Wine LAB, of course), and even personal movie nights at the Broadway Metro. These are just a few of the many options nearby our shop in downtown Eugene.

These sort of local, business-to-business purchases can be more important than many people think. With the events of COVID-19, buying local acted as an economic support for many small businesses in our city. At Threadbare, we went as far as creating an online store selling shirts and other merch from many of Eugene’s local restaurants, with 100% of the money going straight to the respective business. In a very practical sense, this helped our customers make some revenue such that they would still be in business (and buying tees) once the quarantine was lifted.

However your business can invest in the local community, regardless of the amount, please do it! The benefits to your community alone are astounding. As an added bonus, this local economic impact will also bring benefits to your business: not only does it keep more revenue within the local economy, it can also make your business stand out from others.

To read more about the benefits of local business-to-business purchasing, this article by SCORE, a nonprofit dedicated to helping small businesses grow and achieve their goals, has more information.

Our radar for new, environmentally-conscious products and systems is always on high alert. Recently, one of our most exciting discoveries has been garment recycling programs offered by clothing brands like Marine Layer and For Days. Businesses like these are revolutionizing the fashion industry by not only eliminating their own waste, but even offering free recycling of garments from other brands!

Given our shop is involved in the fashion industry, we felt that we needed to take advantage of these garment recycling programs. For this reason, we’ve taken measures to contact these companies and verify what garments they can and can’t take (spoiler alert: they take almost everything, aside from undergarments). Additionally, we’ve been informed that the entire process is free of charge on our end – the companies offer prepaid mailers (in addition to dropboxes in some states/locations) and will even send over additional postage in case you have too many garments.

Most importantly, we’ve also done our own research to ensure that the recycling companies that are partnered with these clothing brands are doing their due diligence. For both Marine Layer and For Days, the recycling company they partner with is called Recover. The most amazing thing about this company is their rating on the The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) that provides a rating of the environmental impact for a given material. Recover was rated well-below all other virgin-textile manufacturers that have been rated on this index, i.e. their impact is one of the lowest even when compared to RPET and organic bamboo, hemp, or cotton.

Only in the last 80 years have women started to represent part of the manufacturing workforce in the U.S. In the grand scheme of things, 80 years isn’t long at all. We have years of necessary changes ahead of us if we want more equitable communities in the U.S.

We comment on this topic as a women-owned screen printing shop. Traditionally, women in screen printing has meant arts and crafts rather than a serious occupation. It was even seen as extremely unusual for women to be in the manufacturing workforce at all pre-WW2. As of today, it’s still rare to find a female-run, commercial printing shop. 

On the bright side, women currently run many companies in the manufacturing industry. That being said, there are still many disparities, many of which extend far past the realm of assigned sexes. 

For women in this industry, opportunities exist for creating a successful career with the satisfaction that comes from running your own business. As the owner of a female-run print shop, I feel it’s necessary to encourage other women inspired by entrepreneurship in a creative field to consider the opportunities of running your own print shop. This is especially important due to the lack of representation in this field, and many other leadership roles.

In sum, we believe diversity is beneficial for any company regardless of the industry. Bringing in different perspectives can help a company grow and thrive!

As a small business, we view our ties to the local community as being a key factor in our success. Events, internships, workshops, and many other options allow us to grow and maintain these ties.

One such example comes in the form of our head of shop upkeep: Lisa Sansevere. Lisa found employment with us through a work placement program at the Oregon Supportive Living Program (OSLP). Since its formation, this non-profit organization has followed their mission of empowering adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We at Threadbare highly value the opportunity to work with such a stellar program, even Boss Lady Baker (or, as some people know her, Amy) is a member of their Board of Directors!

The opportunities for community involvement don’t stop there. Through local high schools and non-profit organizations such as Connected Lane County, Threadbare has provided internship opportunities and screenprinting workshops to well-over a dozen students throughout Lane County.

A summer screen printing workshop we offered to high schoolers throughout Lane County back in 2016.

From a humanitarian perspective, having businesses be involved in their local community is imperative to ensure that all of us have opportunities for growth rather than a select few. From a purely-business perspective, these internships, workshops, and partnerships with local organizations has also provided us with an abundance of word-of-mouth advertising and, with regards to internships, a lil’ bit of free labor. All-in-all, this is something that benefits both the business and the local community!

If you’re interested in the work placement program offered by OSLP, here‘s a link to their webpage that provides more info. and contacts. 

If you’re interested in providing internship opportunities, we highly suggest checking out Connected Lane County. Here’s a link to their webpage that provides the application as well as further info.

In this industry, there’s no such thing as perfect. Everyone makes mistakes! That being said, our misprints don’t get the same treatment as many other shops.

Instead of sending our misprinted garments into the landfill, we reuse every single misprinted tee until there are absolutely no other ways to put it to use. From re-utilizing these misprints for test-prints, donating the misprinted garments to artists/schools for their own projects, cutting these garments up and using them as cleaning rags, or even taking them home and making rugs! Ultimately, we ensure that nothing goes into a trash can unless it’s entirely un-repurposable. This not only minimizes our waste, but it also saves us money on cleaning rags and test-print sheets.

A T-shirt rug made by yours truly using TBPH misprints and other scrap fabrics

One issue printers/embroiderers may encounter with this method is that some customers would prefer that their logos don’t end up being used in ways that contradict their company values. This is entirely understandable! For this reason, we make sure that we cover these logos with black ink (or cut them out of the fabric) before sending the missprint to other groups/artists for repurposing.

Cool, Artsy Projects for Misprints and Scrap Fabric:

Make a Rug out of Fabric Scraps

Make a Dress out of Bandanas

Make Garden/Room Flags out of Scrap Fabric

More Upcycle Inspiration

During these unpredictable times, it’s always nice to approach some level of “normalcy”. For us, one aspect of said normalcy is our customer relations and the connections we’ve built with our community. Pre-COVID, tours of our shop were a regular occurence that we all enjoyed! These tours were a great way to not only provide insight into the screen printing process, but it also created many ways to include our local community in our everyday business.

In the hopes of maintaining our personal connection with the community, we did a virtual tour of Threadbare with help from the folks at Connected Lane County. This was a great way to not only offer a peek inside of Threadbare during a time when we can’t allow regular walk-ins, but also to offer more transparency into our  production process and the people that make shirt happen!

As the world starts opening back up, we’ll be able to return to the open-nature our shop used to have. In the near future, customers (and curious people right off the street) will be able to tour our shop in-person as they used to, which is really exciting to all of us at Threadbare.

Compared to the behaviors of individual citizens, businesses and corporations play a much larger role in matters of social justice and the state of our environment. For this reason, it’s important that we make changes in our business practices in order to bolster the success of our fellow human beings while also minimizing the damage we cause upon our environment.

The goal of this blog is to help others to be conscious that change is possible, it doesn’t have to break the bank, and it can even (at times) help to save some money while also improving the world we live in.

We understand that it can take a lot of time to rethink and modify business practices to be more sustainable and, in this world, time is money! This is precisely why we’ve made this blog. Hopefully, the information we provide over time can be of some use to another business owner hoping to become more ethically and sustainably minded.

Cheers!

– TBPH