We (Aaron and Tim) found our way to screen printing during high school. We were both the beneficiaries of passionate educators (Lisa Crotty at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, WI and Scott Torder at Bayport High School in Green Bay, WI). What started as an elective art class quickly grew into a real love and respect for printing. Both of us were designing and printing custom shirts for our friends in no time and we knew without a doubt that we wanted to continue to pursue the artform.
We met while attending UW Stout in Menomonie, WI. We both were pursuing degrees in Graphic Communication Management and we became fast friends. We became roommates and started spending nights up late, dreaming of starting a screen printing company out of our dorm.
With more lint in our pockets than capital, we emptied our bank accounts of the little we had to spare and turned it into some used equipment we found for sale in Chicago. Having no real idea of what it was or what condition it was in, it seemed like a perfectly sound investment! A road trip in a less than ideal, borrowed Chevy S-10 later, we (somehow) had a barebones printing operation setup in our garage.
In the summer, we would spend our hours all set up in the hotbox that was our single car garage. And when the Wisconsin winter forced us inside (and into the loving arms of barely any insulation), we were working out of our (even smaller!) basement. Looking back, I can't believe we even fit the equipment down there, let alone ourselves. Our backs were literally against the wall while we were printing!
Word started to spread around campus and around town, and the ink followed suit. Through our connections with fellow students, we started printing for clubs, organizations and sports teams on campus. Printing was still more of a hobby, but we started to realize that people were both depending on us for good results and becoming more and more excited with the merch we were capable of delivering. When Aaron's brother, Clayton, starting connecting us to the nearby Eau Claire music scene, we found ourselves spending a lot more time on-press than in-class.
In order to fulfill the orders now flooding us, we needed better equipment and more space. So in just under a month's time, we found a new home in Eau Claire, and printed the 1st batch of merch on some new equipment we picked up in Grand Forks, ND after hearing through the grapevine that it was available. The whole month is something of a blur, but we can definitely still remember that the place we picked up the equipment from was next door to a french fry factory. Even our hotel room smelled like fries. The press practically still does!
We had looked all over Eau Claire for a new space to call home. Aaron's father, Greg called one day and told us about a space in downtown Eau Claire's historic Banbury Place. Given that we were coming from a 1 car garage, we had no idea what we'd do with that much space. But as soon as our equipment was set up, it was obvious we were going to have no problem putting it to use. We hired our first two employees, to help us manage the workload, and got down to it!
Meanwhile, that Eau Claire music scene was exploding! Artists affiliated with the rising group, Bon Iver, started to ask us if we could print merch for them and we were happy to do it. When the Bon Iver camp itself asked us to print the merch for their album presales, we found ourselves looking at, by far, our biggest job to date. And like all make-or-break moments, the timing was exquisite: Finals week. That said, it went great! (The printing… No comment on the finals…) We hand-pulled the entire run and established a relationship and mutual respect that led to them asking us to print all the merch for their upcoming tour. …if only it was as easy said as done!
Out of our new home, we were able to not only increase the number of jobs we were doing for clients in the Eau Claire area, but also offer new services. Poster printing, embroidery, live printing events and design were a few that folks started relying on us for.
The more printing for bands, artists and clothing labels we did, the more we found artists were looking for a reliable, affordable online order fulfillment service. This gave birth to Ambient Merch. We launched our first online store for blues-rock band The Shouting Matches and soon after launched stores for regional and national bands Polica, Volcano Choir, S. Carey, The 4 On The Floor and more. We were also wildly excited to custom design and operate, in-house, the exclusive worldwide online merch shop for Bon Iver.
In 2014, we also added a focus on live printing events. We travel and setup a printing rig at music festivals and other events, such as marathons, company parties, and the like. We custom design and print shirts, posters, you name it, exclusively for the event and get to show off a bit of what we're lucky enough to do every day. And how do we travel to such events? IN THE MERCH MOBILE. The Merch Mobile is our dolled-up 1968 Chevy Impala wagon. She's flat black and all the graphics are hand painted… so we're hard to miss.
In August 2014, we proudly helped launch our brother company, Knorth Studios, with a pair of our very creative friends. We've lent a bit of the experience we've picked up along the way and in return, are happy to have an amazing creative studio as part of our family. We believe it's beneficial to everyone involved when your whole project, regardless of scale, can be taken care of under one roof. Design, branding, marketing, web development, photography, and video creation are all services Knorth Studios can provide.