Dan Hargest, owner of Acme Prints in Phoenix, started screen-printing T-shirts in his back yard in 1999. A singer in semi-famous power-pop band Pollen, the group was looking for a cheap and effective way to print T-shirts. Hargest decided to print the shirts himself — a hobby that turned into a career when Pollen broke up.
Nowadays, Hargest is more well-known as the printer who churned out nearly 25,000 “Red for Ed” shirts in the past two months for teachers across the state. The bright red shirts became a symbol of the education-funding movement, and many print shops across the state cranked out their version of the latest hot commodity. For weeks, Hargest’s shop was overflowing with colorful shirts and teachers coming to pick them up.
How did you get started printing “Red for Ed” shirts?
I’ve always thought that it’s insane that teachers aren’t regarded very highly in our country, it seems. People think that paying them a really low wage is OK, and the truth is that you’re going to have people who need to pay back their student loans, and they’re going to probably end up working in a different state as a teacher or get a different job in this state, which means that kids are going to have less qualified teachers, which means the kids are going to have not as good of an education. Arizona’s got a serious problem of that. So, I would have been behind it regardless.
The actual catalyst was that a teacher had decided to print T-shirts at home for free for other teachers when this all started up. So, she posted something online where you have to order by midnight. She was like, “Yeah, I can do 50 or 100.” When the orders came in, it was almost 3,000. She was in a panic. She called us. We printed the almost 3,000 shirts for free, which was almost $6,000 worth of printing services. We’re a very charitable company, even though we’re not that big. I’m a total bleeding heart with animals and people. I’ve been printing like all of PETA’s stuff for over a decade at cost, and I’m just really into helping when I can.
Sleep deprivation really messes up your ability to tell time very well because the days just start melting into each other, and that’s what it’s been like for over a month. Whenever it [the “Red for Ed” movement] first started, it was like brand new and just starting to hit the news. Whenever that was.
You joked about sleep deprivation. Have you been working long hours?
We’re set up to print bulk, and even though we were actually able to print these orders, we’re not used to getting tens of thousands of individual customers. It just turned into we were a “Red for Ed” call center all of a sudden. Every phone call, we’d pick up and be like, “Red for Ed headquarters.” It was just crazy.
After the first 3,000 shirts you gave away, did you sell the others?
After the initial run, then we sold them for $6 apiece. Normally, retail shirts are going to be $15 or $20 each. That’s what most people were selling them for. Essentially, it was at cost because we were having to hire temps. It was at an extremely discounted rate at least. I expected to make essentially nothing on it.
About how many “Red for Ed” shirts did you print?
Overall, it was just shy of 25,000 shirts that we printed.
Have things slowed down now?
Oh, yeah. It has essentially stopped. We still have some people who are buying some shirts, and we are still going to be printing. We’ve gotten a lot of requests for shirts that say “Remember in November” so because we’ve got a lot left over, we’ll probably print that on the back, and we’ll offer shirts with that on the front on the website, and a few other products.
The “Red for Ed” mania has subsided.
Now that things have calmed down, have you gotten more rest?
I’m doing my best to do that. I’ve been trying to catch up on that. As of yesterday, I’ve got my first assistant manager. I started printing on my back porch, and having somebody who’s there means I can potentially go and visit my family and stuff. I was supposed to go surprise my mother for her birthday. I had already booked a trip to Florida. And I had it all planned out how we were going to surprise her. We had to postpone it, and then I had to cancel that because “Red for Ed” stuff was to the point that I was working, then falling asleep, then working.
What do you normally print at your shop?
It’s like everything. We do sports team stuff, we do a lot of businesses that need bulk shirt orders, but we also print one-off shirts. If someone wants a full color picture of grandma on a shirt for her birthday, we do that as well.
Did you make any profit printing the “Red for Ed” T-shirts?
It didn’t seem to hurt us in the very least, so that’s good. If it was really painful, I would have noticed it by now, but I haven’t. Even if it was just a wash, we got to communicate with so many potential customers so that’s where I’m really excited. Even if we didn’t make a penny off of it, we have maybe 20,000 people who directly interacted with us. The organic word-of-mouth sort of marketing has been amazing.
How did it feel to see your work clothing the “Red for Ed” movement?
It’s great when you support something like that. It’s really nice to see that it’s helping people, especially when you’re thinking that all those people there are people who don’t get paid very well. Knowing that you saved all those people $10 or $15 is really nice. You’re actually helping. I think that’s why we’ve gotten more appreciation for this than anything we’ve ever done. They appreciate that we made it affordable for them.