Custom Shirts and Apparel Facebook Page
September 23, 2022
Together, Eric Starkweather and Rob Wise have created and maintained the force that is Custom Shirts and Apparel, located at 23 Lebanon Street. Now a staple of the Hamilton community, their business was established over ten years ago in a space previously occupied by another printing company. Partly known for its quirky displays in the shop window, Custom Shirts and Apparel offers a wide range of services — from the silly to the serious — with just two people manning it.
“I do the artwork and the invoicing, and [Wise] does the screen printing downstairs and other manual labor,” Starkweather explained. “It’s a little bit of a learning curve, but we try not to skimp on our equipment. And we’ve gone to classes, and gone to conventions and taken seminars [to learn how to keep up with demand and best construct products].”
In their unassuming shop, they house a $25,000 direct to garment machine – a state of the art inkjet printer – all downstairs. With this kind of technology, the possibilities are endless.
“We do mostly T-shirts, but we do hoodies, embroidery, a little bit of everything. We also do sublimation [printing], where we can do coffee mugs, coffee cups and travel mugs,” Starkweather said.
Unlike most printing giants, Starkweather and Wise’s shop can easily field smaller orders.
“With our Brother [brand] direct to garment machine, we can take a picture off your phone or off of the internet and put it right through a shirt — one shirt — it does the perfect picture, it does a rainbow of colors, we can edit the pictures and put a caption to it. Students have had fun with that. Whether they’re making fun of their friend passed out on the floor with pizza all over them, or it’s a sports team just making up a shirt to give to their coaches,” Starkweather said.
Students come to Custom Shirts and Apparel with more serious demands, as well, and Starkweather and Wise get just as much joy out of these requests.
“I like working with customers,” said Starkweather. “I had one student that was very artistic and made up her own shirts and designs with space aliens. She ordered a number of different things and sold them up the hill, so she did thousands [of dollars] worth of apparel.”
This community-centric approach drives the business and motivates the two business partners.
“I think Hamilton’s a great village. I get along with the students. I’ve made friends with them over the years, and am still friends with those in the classes of the 1980s, and right up through. I give them rides on my Harley and drink booze with them,” said Starkweather.
Wise also appreciates the close-knit nature of the businesses downtown and wider Hamilton population.
“I’ve been here my whole life, so I haven’t fallen too far away. I grew up here, and liked the community, so I stayed here,” Wise said.
Setting up shop in the tight-knit community of Hamilton comes with its fair share of rewards, but the business owners also spoke to some of the challenges in turnover.
“The good old local ones have hung in there. You see a lot of coming and going […] they might try something new and it doesn’t always work,” Wise said. “It’s tough when students go away during the school year. Businesses come here and they’re planning on student business. And when they start going away during the summer, some of them had to close down, and it doesn’t pay the bills and it’s just tough. So we can build a business without student business, and when the students are here, that’s just gravy,” continued Starkweather.
In addition to Custom Shirts and Apparel’s appeal to demographics beyond college students, they tout an impressive geographic network of customers.
“It’s amazing – there are Colgate alumni, you know, I’m doing a business with a guy out of Brooklyn,” said Starkweather, as he gestured to a yellow envelope on his desk that was addressed to this alumnus. “I’m doing business with a guy out of the Virgin Islands […] as long as they come to Colgate, man, they know we’re here and what our capabilities are, and they call us up for business.”
Speaking of capabilities, some current students might not be aware of all that Custom Shirts and Apparel can do. Senior Eva Wiener expressed her content with the shop’s print-development services.
“The store is a little hidden gem in town. There’s been a huge resurgence of film cameras among college students, and I don’t think a lot of people know the store develops photos. I’ve gotten a couple disposable cameras developed there and the service is super fast and friendly,” Wiener commented.
Starkweather once managed the color lab at Vantine Studios and Imaging, a local photography company, so these skills have clearly translated well to his current business.
As for new business developments, Starkweather shared that they’ve established a website where clients can design their own T-Shirts and apparel, which can be found at www.customshirtsapparel.layoutlab.com.
“That’s us, you know, trying to keep up with the bigger vendors,” Starkweather said. “So [clients] can design them and it will come right to us [in the store], and we can go right from there.”
Starkweather shared that his future goals for the business revolve around staying on this upward trajectory.
“We want to keep growing in volume and getting a good name. I know that Google rates us five stars, and you know, that helps when people look us up,” he said.
Wander downtown or visit Custom Shirts and Apparel’s website at www.customshirts-apparel.com to see a five star business in action.
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