CHATHAM, NY — Scott Govertsen became interested in screen printing when he was a dirt track racer. While he was executing controlled drifts at high speeds, his wife Michele and daughters Jessica, Krissy and Racheal, sold T-shirts in the grandstands for his sponsor, a race apparel company. When customers began asking for custom apparel, Govertsen decided to print his own.
After attending classes at screen printing trade shows, he purchased a manual press and founded Gfab Graphix, a clothing line catering to local race teams.
As he continued to attend trade shows and take classes, he observed equipment demonstrations that sparked the idea of staging live printing events.
"At the expos, big crowds would gather around the printer and dryer waiting for the shirts to come out," he says. "I thought if I could do that at car shows and other events, everybody standing there would want a T-shirt."
Winning ticket spurs live print venture
In 2017, he and Michele attended the Impressions Expo in Atlantic City where they entered a raffle for a V-100 one-station, one-color tabletop printer from Vastex International. Govertsen won the printer, and Michele won a $200 voucher, with which they purchased another station and upgraded the press from one to four print heads.
"We chose to add three more heads so that we could have four different designs on press at once," Govertsen explains. "We also wanted the option of having two shirts on press at the same time."
Within a month of winning the press, Govertsen booked his first live event: printing and selling official T-shirts for a festival in Massachusetts. His booth accommodated the compact printer, which he set up in four minutes.
At live events, such as the Columbia County Fair in Chatham, NY, Govertsen uses 20 x 25 in. (50 x 63 cm) screens and prints T-shirts, hoodies, koozies and bags.
"We want kids to be part of the live experience," Govertsen explains. "I show them how to hold the squeegee and help them print their own shirts. It's amazing how many kids think it's the coolest thing at the fair."
Because Govertsen focuses on the customer experience, he prefers to print one shirt at a time.
"Usually people order a shirt, and then take a cell phone photo of it being printed," he says. "That experience draws people in; they tell their friends about it, and soon everyone wants to come to our booth for a shirt."
Govertsen's prints are mostly one-color designs in black or grey scale on tie-dye and light-colored shirts. If he prints white ink on a dark shirt, he sets up the second platen to serve as a cooling station between flashing the underbase and over-printing the top layer of ink.
He finds it easier to stay with one color so he can keep printing non-stop for customers.
Although the press has all-heads-down printing capability, Govertsen doesn't need it at live events as only one person works the press at a time. The four screens are attached to a carousel, allowing him to stand at one station and spin the print head with the next design to where he is standing.
He says "Thumb screws on the back of each screen head allow for off-contact and level adjustments without the need for tools."
After shirts are printed, they run through a small conveyor dryer while the customer waits.
Compact press opens doors for large orders
Today, Govertsen is the official garment printer for the Columbia County Fair Board. Since that first event, his live print business has taken off.
"We attend about seven or eight events a year, including festivals, fairgrounds, car shows and Little League games," he says. "At some of the larger venues we print hundreds of T-shirts and make as much as $3,000 to $4,000 a day. I'm proof that you can take an entry-level press out in public, use it in a commercial setting and be really successful."
Not only are live print events lucrative, but they generate new clients for the Govertsens' printing business, Chatham Clothing Company, which offers screen printing, embroidery, sublimation and heat-transfer vinyl services.
"We don't advertise, but we attract business all month long from the cards we hand out at live events," Govertsen says.
In addition to printing Little League uniforms, Govertsen drives his live print trailer onto the field at games and takes orders from parents for hats, shirts and other Little League-approved merchandise.
"Every business person within 50 miles of that field has a child in Little League, so it's great exposure for us," he says.
Printing on demand at live events also ensures that Govertsen isn't stuck with excess inventory.
"When you print shirts, sometimes you have to guess how many to order, and you may not sell them all," he says. "But with live events, there's no waste; if someone orders an XL for himself and a 2X for his dad at home, we can print those two shirts while he waits."
In 2019, Govertsen changed the name of Gfab Graphics to Chatham Clothing Company — a nod to a local textile company from the 1800s. The name change also reflects a shift in focus from primarily race car apparel to clothing for diverse businesses and community events.
Most of Chatham Clothing Company's orders are printed on an automatic press in Govertsen's garage. He also operates another manual press, as well as a conveyor dryer and three embroidery machines.
When Govertsen isn't printing at home or at live events, he works his day job as a plumbing and heating contractor. His goal is to transition to printing full time and move the family business to a commercial building that can house all of his equipment under one roof.