When two Thurston County couples – four fast friends who met eight years ago in a martial arts class – vacationed in Placencia Village in southern Belize in August of last year, they were hoping to drum up a business venture they could all take part in.
Jeff and Carrie Boyd and Jon and Judy Pitchford thought about opening a restaurant in Belize, but that wasn’t quite right.
In the midst of their trip, Jon, Judy, and Jeff searched for t-shirts to buy as souvenirs. “Everywhere we go on vacation together, Jon, Judy, and Jeff buy t-shirts,” says Carrie.
But the sartorial selection the traveling trio found was paltry and unimpressive.
“Most of them didn’t say the name of the city we were in, and some didn’t even say the country of Belize on them,” Carrie continues. “They were crummy.”
Judy looked up silk screening on her phone and found a place to take a class in Vancouver. The business idea for Belize Tees was born.
“We started out not knowing anything, and just jumped into it,” says Jon. It didn’t take long for the partners to realize they liked the work and had a knack for it.
“I like the creative side of it and being able to work with art,” Jon continues. “It’s fun, because it’s new to us. And we’re all friends, which makes a big difference.”
“Judy and Jeff went to the class, and that’s where we learned about sublimation,” says Carrie, of one of the processes Belize Tees uses to put text and any kind of graphic or photo on an endless number of items, from shirts to coffee mugs, coasters to desk clocks.
A special printer and paper are used to print any computer image on whatever product the customer wants. “We put it right on whatever we’re using,” says Carrie. “It could be a bag tag, cardboard, metal, drink cozies, neoprene coasters. It’s endless.”
The company began with silk screening, and then discovered other ways to make t-shirts colorful and compelling.
Using a direct-to-garment machine, they can place an unlimited amount of colors on a t-shirt. “It has a regular platen, like a silk screen machine, but this prints it all out at one time,” Carrie explains. “Our customer can have one color or a hundred.”
Belize Tees’ also uses a process called vinyl. “It cuts out on a plotter, and then I have to peel it and put the image down and heat press it,” says Carrie.
And the different methods can be combined for any type of custom job.
“This is a sweatshirt we did for a local soccer team,” Carrie says, holding up a black sweatshirt with a red, white, and black design for the Olympia Rowdies. “We did the silk screening, and then we did the vinyl on the back.”
The company recently completed an order of 300 shirts for a client, but they usually see runs of about 25.
Nowadays, custom printing for apparel is easily found online at sites such as CafePress and Zazzle, but you can spend your dollars locally and spend fewer of them for the same, or superior, products.
Judy recently delivered a one-off shirt to a local man who wanted a specific design as part of his Halloween costume.
“It cost him eleven dollars,” she says. “If he had gone to CafePress or Zazzle, it would have easily cost him more than twenty dollars to do that.”
Jeff and Carrie work full-time for Belize Tees, and the entire operation is run out of their Tumwater home in a recently renovated space combining what used to be two rooms.
New machines were delivered recently that were too large to fit through the home office doorway, so Jeff simply took out the existing door and some of the wall. French doors were installed, which will save any trouble for future oversized machinery.
Jeff, Carrie, Jon, and Judy are equal partners in the company. Jon still works full-time, for the Timberland Library, and his role at Belize Tees is mostly the technical and web details – though all four have learned the ins and outs of printing.
Judy works half-days at the state library, and then she heads to the Belize Tees work site, helping Jeff and Carrie with whatever’s on the agenda.
“Carrie is our main networker, because she loves to talk, and the rest of us are quieter,” says Judy.
“I love to talk, yeah, that’s not a problem,” Carrie says, laughing. “Jeff would just as soon stay here and make stuff, and Judy juggles her schedule so she can do some of the networking with me, too.”
“We all have compatible personalities, which is really, really important,” says Judy.
“ Very rarely does one of us dig our heels in hard,” says Carrie. “Usually we can all compromise and come to a happy medium, or be swayed one way or the other.”
The Belize Tees team continues to take trips to Placencia, and Jeff became part-owner of a dive shop during the last visit they all made to Belize, in June.
“Our favorite hangout,” Judy adds.
The long-term plan is that the two couples will make more frequent and longer visits to the island paradise they’ve come to love.
“It’s just wonderful there,” says Carrie. “Nobody’s ever in a hurry.”
Judy interjects, with a laugh: “And you have to not be in a hurry, too.”
“It’s a third world country, so it’s not like going to Hawaii,” Carrie says, “but we really enjoy it down there.”
The village they visit has just 600 residents, whom Carrie describes as warm, giving people. “They just kind of opened their arms to us.”
One thing all four feel strongly about is helping give back to the Placencia community.
Belize Tees takes supplies to the village’s school each time they travel there, and plans to send supplies when they have extra room in future t-shirt shipments.
Carrie would also like to teach community members martial arts skills, to help fight the horrible problem of human trafficking that’s prevalent there.
“I’ve taught a lot of small children and women,” Carrie says of her martial arts experience. “I could give them some skills and make them understand that what’s going on is not okay.”
Judy has a teaching degree, and combined with her skills with the library, there’s talk of helping open a library in Placencia.
“We know that volunteering is going to be very important to us,” Carrie says.