CAFE 541: For Eugene screen printer Threadbare Press, its all about sustainability and reducing environmental impact – The Register-Guard

Posted: March 22, 2020 at 4:44 am

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The term "threadbare" can evoke opposing images: that of careworn clothing, worn down to the last stitch by income-conscious clientele and, opposing that, of distressed threads, broken in and sold at exorbitant prices to fashion-forward consumers of considerable means.

Eugenes Threadbare Press, however, presents a third model: that of proprietors hawking self-awareness while printing on apparel, disclosing the potential environmental and human impact of the clothing that they vend.

For 10 years, founder Amy Baker has maintained Threadbare as a tiny business with a big voice calling for positive change in a massive industry. It has, in turn, allowed Threadbare to provide customers with another option in creating screen-printed textiles.

We are a small organization doing lots of small things to be sustainable, Baker said.

This includes using less water, composting waste and making sure that employees drink from reasonable mugs. The largest influence they can have is, of course, in the process of creating screen-printed apparel.

Environmental consequences

The T-shirt. A wonderful sign board that declares beliefs, lack of belief, intentions, perspective and where loyalties lie. The T-shirt can motivate marathon training, bring pride to community thespians and drive political campaigns. But even the utilitarian cool of the simple white tee carries a massive environmental impact.

The World Wildlife Foundation says that it takes about 2,700 liters of water to produce enough cotton for one T-shirt, enough to fill more than 30 bathtubs. And, according to the nonprofit guide, the apparel industry accounts for 20 percent of the worlds industrial water pollution. also cites that textile manufacturing is responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions.

In response, Threadbare seeks to source its cotton tees from domestic sustainable sources. Bella + Canvas, for example, manufactures its shirts in California, using one-seventh of the usual required amount of water, in part because of the states stringent water regulations.

Why not use an alternative to cotton then? In fact, most of the industry doesnt. states that in 2017, only about a quarter of textiles were made from cotton. Nearly 60 percent came from fully synthetic, petroleum-based polyester., however, notes that polyester production is a carbon-intensive non-renewable resource that consumes more than 70 billion barrels of oil annually. Polyester fabric is not biodegradable and will persist in the ecosystem even as it breaks down. In fact, The Guardian found that synthetic garments could be the biggest source of microplastic pollution in the worlds waterways.

That's why Threadbare uses cotton to produce almost all of its T-shirts.

'It doesnt smell like a print shop'

Today, Threadbares clients include local breweries, arts and culture organizations and nonprofits. They can print on T-shirts, caps, bandanas and even backpacks.

Baker began the business when she wanted to learn about screen printing as a hobby.

And I had friends with businesses looking for screen-printed T-shirts for their companies and projects, Baker said. All Oregon Art Supply had were water-based inks, so thats what I got in the first place.

With water-based inks, pigments mix with water and stick to fabric as the water dissolves. The alternative, PVC-based plastisol inks, bind better and attach to polyester and blended fabrics, while water-based inks only work with cotton. These PVC-based plastisol inks, though, have the potential to leak microplastics into water systems, so Threadbare doesnt use them.

As opposed to water-based inks, solvents dissolve as plastisol inks bind to fabric, creating an awful smell and toxic environment for screen printers.

This is something production manager Brit Howard said people notice immediately upon entering Threadbare.

People are always surprised that it doesnt smell like a print shop in here, Howard said.

Threadbare wont use plastisol and therefore doesnt use polyester clothing, which eliminates quite a few potential clients. It's a compromise the shop is willing to take.

You cant drink it (water-based ink), but its a better alternative even if its not 100% non-toxic, Baker said. If everybody in the supply chain does their part, it can get a little bit better along the way.

The biggest environmental hazards for screen printers are the toxic glues and aerosol adhesives that attach textiles to print pallets. These adhesives have the potential to soak into screen printers skins and to poison lungs in addition to the atmosphere.

That's why Threadbare chose Ryonet of Vancouver, Washington, to supply its inks and adhesives as well as its screen line soybean-based cleaning agent as an alternative to potentially toxic industrial cleaning agents.

Ryonets Project 376 not only aims to improve the application of water-based inks, but also seeks to eliminate noxious adhesives and glues and the corrosive solvents often used to clean screens and printing plates. Eradicating noxious fumes from the work environment provides Threadbare employees a better place to work.

I also dont get headaches because we arent using solvents and putting that awful stuff down the drain," Howard said.

Keeping the customer at the forefront

One of the areas largest screen printing firms, Eugene Silkscreen Inc., was founded in 1985 but keeps up with industry trends.

Theres been a lot of change and a lot of improvement in the industry, President Bryan Cunningham said. Shoot, in 1986 there was still lead in the ink.

Being a local industry leader means catering to Eugene Silkscreens diverse customers needs. According to Cunningham, nobody is looking for cotton anymore, thanks to the soft, giving feel of tri-blend (cotton, rayon and polyester) and polyester fabrics.

Weve got shirts that are polyester and they feel great, but we can't print on them with (water-based inks), Cunningham said.

Eugene Silkscreen is cognizant of the materials used in its shop. It uses a variation of adhesives depending on the garment and printers preference. This includes some non-aerosol options like sticky paper and a nontoxic paste that adheres to the printing pallet. This applies to cleaners as well, with the firm using a citrus-based cleaner to clean most of its inks.

The unfortunate thing is that the prices on this have tripled in the last couple of years, Cunningham said. It still works better than all of the other products I have found and is better for the environment.

Ultimately it comes down to whether the client is willing to pay more.

I've had a client that says, I want 100% U.S., and then we source it and they go, I don't pay that, Cunningham said. Theyre putting their money where their mouth is.

Active awareness is the key

Threadbares philosophy is that it may lose options (and customers) but gain the ability to reduce its environmental impact while educating its clients.

Theres not enough clear information for consumers out there, Baker said. I am very aware of all of the greenwashing (a company presenting itself as environmentally friendly to improve its image). There needs to be more truthfulness around this industry.

In order to promote this candor, Baker sits on the board of the Specialized Graphic Industry Association, a trade organization that gathers the worlds print shop owners for once-a-month conference calls and yearly education conferences to inform each other and, in turn, the public on industry options.

People are very resistant to change, but being open to everything is how we grow, Baker said. Its good that were a company trying to do this, but there needs to be a massive change. Big shifts have to happen at the industry level.

Contact reporter Matthew Denis at or 541-338-2265 and follow him on Instagram @CAFE_541. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.

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CAFE 541: For Eugene screen printer Threadbare Press, its all about sustainability and reducing environmental impact - The Register-Guard

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March 22nd, 2020 at 4:44 am

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