Printing with purpose

Published 2:00 pm Friday, January 15, 2021

By Mark Williams

Our shirts can say a lot about us. Whether we rep our favorite musical artists, sports teams, brands or schools, the T-shirts we wear send a message to the world. And it isn’t just the image on the shirt that matters.

Where the shirts are made and who makes them can make a difference in quality, comfort and sometimes, even community. At Print My Threads, making a difference is what matters the most.

The bustling, all-purpose screen printing shop was founded in Ashland in 2009 by husband and wife team Kyle and Annie Robinson. In the last decade, the couple has grown Print My Threads from a humble print studio based in their garage into a fully-functioning, eco-friendly commercial operation. However, through all the years of success and expansion, the business has never lost sight of the core values on which it was founded.

“We believe that a better shirt has the power to make a better world,” owner Kyle Robinson said. “The thing that really motivates me is doing work that helps others. There are so many people out there working to make a lasting, positive impact — those are our people and the ones we want to connect and work with.”

Working with organizations like The Ohio River Institute and Huntington Pride, as well as regional fixtures like King’s Daughters Medical Center and Kentucky for Kentucky, Print My Threads has turned their passions for equality and environmental awareness into products that help improve the lives of others in our region.

“We want to make sure that the T-shirts we put out into the world help tell the stories of the people who are out there doing good work. With everything that’s currently going on, it’s become clear that this message is more important and relevant than ever before.”

After several years housed in a retail storefront in downtown Ashland, Print My Threads purchased a vacant roller rink in Flatwoods, Kentucky in 2013 and slowly began to renovate the entire building. “To date, we’ve added all new electric, plumbing, energy efficient spray foam insulation and LED lighting,” said Robinson on a tour of the building. “This past year, we received two separate USDA Energy grants that we used to replace the roof, install energy efficient HVAC throughout our production area and install a rooftop solar panel system that offsets 100 percent of our electric usage.”

When operating at full capacity, Print My Threads can churn out up to 400 shirts an hour. From the in-house graphic design department to the production crew making screens and operating the printing presses, the efficient seven-person team works with a fluid fervor to fill orders for local, regional and national customers. But like almost every business in America, the fine-tuned production at Print My Threads came to a screeching halt during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The subsequent economic shutdown plunged countless local businesses, many of whom already operate on the smallest of margins, into an increasingly uncertain future. But rather than sit idly by, Print My Threads decided to put their core values to work.

Inspired by a national movement within the T-shirt industry called the Here For Good Campaign, Robinson and company quickly took action and launched their own Local Lifesaver campaign to assist struggling small businesses in the Tri-State during the shutdown. The project allowed customers to purchase a $20 T-shirt from Print My Threads, who would then donate half the proceeds to a small business of the customer’s choosing. In just over a month’s time, the project sold more than 600 shirts, raising over $6,000 for 48 different participating small businesses in the region.

With the region’s economy slowly reopening, Print My Threads will soon shift its fundraising efforts to their partnership with the Kentucky Parks Club. The initiative is an offshoot of the Kentucky State Parks Foundation, which supports the preservation of the many natural wonders and state parks within the Commonwealth and encourages people throughout the state to get out and experience nature firsthand.

“The work that the Kentucky State Parks Foundation does is super important, and it’s not just kids who need to fall in love with nature. I’m super passionate about social equity and our planet, so working on projects that result in good things for people and the planet will be our core focus moving forward.”

The post-COVID path to economic recovery in America is sure to be long, difficult and uncertain, as are the paths to social justice and environmental awareness. These daunting, complex issues often feel overwhelming, but to make a better nation, we must start in our own community. Though it may seem impossible at first, every person can help in some way. Rest assured, businesses like Print My Threads will be leading by example, living out their mission to ‘make things better by making better things.’

“T-shirts have the ability to unify a message, create awareness and rally support around a cause,” Robinson says. “Never underestimate the power of a T-shirt.”