Recent grads open own business printing shirts
It’s not uncommon for recent graduates to find themselves in a job that doesn’t utilize their degree and isn’t in the realm of their career goals.
Some recent grads fall into luck. They are able to utilize their degree while combining a hobby with their career goal to create their dream job. The guys at Pop’s Printed Apparel are the lucky ones.
Co-owners Chad Campagna, 25, and Austin Pence, 24, grew up together in East Palestine, Ohio.
Campagna’s father owned a printing business in their hometown, and Campagna grew up working in the shop, learning the ropes. After Campagna graduated from high school, he went to Youngstown State University. A year later, Pence headed off to Ohio State.
“Summer of 2011, we were painting houses and one of the kids who was painting with us was talking about screen printing T-shirts. I always liked design but I never saw art as a means to make money, I guess,” Pence said.
He and his roommate at the time, Jobey Manahan, 23, decided to design and print T-shirts out of their campus house on Frambes Avenue. Although Pence had done a fair amount of research, it didn’t fully prepare them for what was to come.
“I remember being on the phone with Chad and him being like, ‘Dude, you can’t just start screen printing.’ We had an order from Delta Gamma and it was like 150 shirts for dad’s weekend and we had never done it before,” Pence said.
“It was a three color back,” Manahan added, who currently works part-time at Pop’s.
“We didn’t sleep all weekend and the shirts were so bad. We just didn’t have the tools we needed and didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” said Pence, who graduated from OSU in spring of 2014 with a degree in marketing. Luckily, Campagna was visiting OSU that weekend and helped them through it. Slowly but surely, they were learning to perfect their craft.
One month after Campagna graduated with a degree in graphic design, the materials in his father’s shop went up for auction. His dad had fallen ill and was unable to continue with his business. The two decided to buy the printing equipment that Campagna had been using since he was a teenager.
From there, things started to fall into place. They got the printing equipment in June, the space on High Street in July, and began renovating.
“There was a lot of sledgehammer work from Jobey,” Campagna said.
Pop’s Printed Apparel opened in January 2015, named for Campagna’s dad, who taught them just about everything they know and who has been critical to their success. They owe much of their accomplishments to him and also to local businesses who have supported them along the way.
“We’ve got a really good relationship with Scott [Ellsworth] at Too’s and Jimmy [Barouxis] and Nora [Rice] at Buckeye Donuts, and that’s been the coolest thing for me,” Pence said. “You go to Ohio State, you go to these businesses, you spend your money at these places — I lived at Buckeye Donuts when we were on Frambes — and now they show support to you.”
Combining their two degrees has also been important in the success of Pop’s.
“It’s been great because he’s graphic design and I was ‘hobby-graphic-design.’ So, I was teaching myself, and there’s so many little things that Chad has taught me to make thing easier. But with the entrepreneur side of things, I took entrepreneur classes and you’re learning from a text book and I think, in business, everything is experience,” Pence said. “It’s been so much trial and error.”
The trial and error seems to be going well for them, as the co-founders are already looking for a warehouse space to expand and showcase the work they do with local businesses. They hope that by expanding their shop to a larger space, they’ll have the opportunity to help out students who are looking to start their own clothing brands, as well. Although their business is looking up, it’s not all easy.
“I’d say the hardest part is you’re always getting calls, you’re always getting emails at all times of the day and if there’s a problem, you have to solve it. You can’t call a superior, you can’t call mom and dad. You gotta deal with it,” Pence said.
Pence also said the best part about being a business owner at 24, is just that: being young.
“We could just blow this, it could be terrible, it just doesn’t work out and then were sitting here and we’re 25. So, we don’t have family, we don’t have kids, it’s just you. If the passion project doesn’t show that it’s lucrative, everything is still in front of us,” he said. “If it works, that’s fantastic. Then we continue to grow and do what we love.” •
Pop’s Printed Apparel is located at 1758 N High St., with custom T-shirts ranging from $5-$30.