top of page

About We Make T-Shirts

If you're looking for a boring story, then this page isn't for you.

Hey everyone. I'm Jon. Owner and founder of We Make T-Shirts, and this is the story of how I became involved in the screen printing and embroidery business. 

Actually, my story starts well before I started screen printing. I always had a go getter mindset. As a young kid I was always looking to provide a service. Cutting grass, shoveling snow, lemonade stands, etc. I even used to color pictures from scratch on these big pieces of old school printer paper my dad would bring home from work, and then knock door to door asking neighbors if they wanted to buy "art" for a quarter. I know many kids do these things. But I always took it a step further by creating signage and flyers to really ADVERTISE what I was doing. I could easily bring in $100 a day selling lemonade. I had a true entrepreneurial spirit from the very beginning.


Fast forward to high school and the birth of my music career. This was around 2001. It was myself and a couple of friends. I started making beats on a Playstation game called MTV Music Generator. And once I had the beats, I needed lyrics. So I started to write my own raps. I remember saving up $400 and buying a track recorder (The Boss BR532). Once I had that recorder, I was on to producing songs.

I was in no way, shape, or form a "natural". Honestly, the music was horrible. But in time it got better. I was a full time artist/producer from 2001 until about 2012. And in that time I was able to accomplish alot. In 2004, we (my group and I) released our first record. They were done super professionally. We had all the tracks mastered at a mastering house, hired a graphic designer to do all the album artwork, bought a barcode, and had 1,000 cd's pressed up. I remember waiting like 6 weeks for those CDs to come. In our minds, they were going to sell the first day we got them. We thought: "EVERYBODY in this city is going to buy this record. We're going to put them in the local record store and they're going to sell out right away". I'm not sure why we thought that because, we really had to reason to believe that. And I remember the day those CD's came. It was 12/31/2004. They were delivered to my dads house which is where I lived at that time and they took up my entire bedroom. And that day, we didn't sell a single one.  

A week or so went by and I realized, I have a problem. Because none of these CDs are selling. But of course they're not? LOL Nobody really knew who I was. I maybe had sold like 5 copies. I needed a plan. And I'll never forget the day that plan happened. It was mid January in Wisconsin. Maybe 6:00PM. It's dark and blizzarding outside and there's probably 12" of snow on the ground. We (my music partner and I) were in the middle of a smoke session in my bedroom (aka our studio) and I just said: "why don't we go stand in front of Best Buy and ask people going in if they want to buy a CD?". I mean, people go to Best Buy to buy CD's as it is right? So I convinced my partner and we went. Dumb idea? Maybe. Worth a shot? Absolutely.

Now it was probably the dumbest time to do this. Because again, it's blizzarding outside. But we went out there with CD's in coat pockets and began to solicit. And... Well... We SOLD COPIES. It wasn't many, but there weren't many people. I think we were out there for about an hour and sold maybe 5 copies at 5$ each until the security came and kicked us out. Again, I know this doesn't sound like much, but for us it was GOLD. That day kicked off our hand to hand combat sales which lasted for years. It became what we did. Every single day. We were at all the malls, all the stores, in all the bars, selling CD's for $5 each. I could share SO MANY great and memorable stories about the years to follow but it would take hours for you to read. But by 2012 we had sold 1,000's of CD's hand to hand, been published in the newspaper multiple times, did hundreds of gigs all throughout the midwest, opened for major groups like Nas and The Roots, even had tracks landed in programs that aired on Showtime. 

Now once we had a buzz with our music, we started having T-Shirts made from a local screen printer. And man did we keep that guy busy. We sold thousands of shirts. It seemed like every CD we sold, produced multiple shirt orders. And then one day, our screen printer was just, gone. We never heard from him again. So me being the person I am, started printed them myself. And let me tell you, the shirts I made in the very beginning were HORRIBLE lol. But they worked. People bought them. I literally had a super busted up screen and would just lay the shirt on a table and scrape ink on using a plastic paint scraper. And then blow dry them so the ink was dry. Again, it wasn't great. Or even good. But it worked. 

It was in 2012 that my music career came to an end. I was burnt out. And so were my partners. We were doing way too much for not enough pay (like most independent musicians) and we were getting older. At the time, I owed my landlord some back rent that I just wasn't able to come up with quick enough. She was nice enough not to evict me. But it was time. I packed my studio equipment up and went to move back in with my dad. I really wanted to continue recording, but I also knew it was time to change my course. I couldn't continue on doing the same thing. For the first time ever, I got a regular full time job in a warehouse and started waiting tables. I eventually started to save some money and thought "I'm going to give this music one last shot".

First things first I got out of my dads house and rented a small apartment. I also managed to find a very small space (it was like a large closet) in a basement a couple towns away to set my music equipment up in. I rented it for fairly cheap and set up all my production equipment to begin recording again. This was super rough. I worked all day long from the early morning until about midnight, and in the spare time I had, I'd go to my production spot and record. I'm not sure why, but it just wasn't the same. Maybe I had taken too much time off? But writing and recording music just didn't do anything for me anymore. And at this time I thought, "maybe I should try the printing thing again". I knew I could get clients fairly quickly because I had a pretty large network of fellow musicians, and I knew they needed merch. Since I had some money saved up I decided to buy a press. So I went on Craigslist and found something small to start with. Over night my studio room had turned into a screen printing shop and this was the birth of We Make T-Shirts.

The early days and the DIY mindset were not traditional by any means. I didn't have squeegees to swipe ink with. I used plastic paint scrapers. I didn't have a flash unit or a conveyor dryer. Instead, to FLASH the ink, I used a blowdryer, and to CURE the ink, I used a table top griddle I bought from Wal-Mart. I grinded the lip off and at
tached a handle to the bottom. When my print was flashed, I'd put the griddle on top of the print and let it sit there for 10 minutes or so to cure the ink. I didn't even have good screens. I made my own out of fabric store mesh, and 2"x2" wood. The entire setup was horrible. And it took FOREVER for me to print shirts. BUT... IT... WORKED... I promoted my business and sold orders.

I've always believed that opportunity is something you have to seek and be ready for. It's not something that just happens. Well. I was lucky enough to find an opportunity. Infact, had it not been for this opportunity, We Make T-Shirts would NOT be here today. I knew I needed to get out of this small space. After all, it was an hour away from where I lived, it was way too small to fit any real equipment in, and it was just really inconvenient. I had made some calls in reference to retail space available in my town, but it was all way too expensive for me to afford. Like not even a "maybe I could afford it". So I hopped on Craigslist and posted a post about how I was looking for a workspace with a storefront in Racine. I explained in this post that I'm looking for something super inexpensive and it doesn't have to be fancy because I couldn't afford fancy. I just needed a spot to do business out of. Honestly, I never thought I would get anywhere with this.  

Today, I can truly say that hard work HAS paid off. From that basement room, I've been to 4 other locations. Today, we operate out of a 5,000 sq ft warehouse. I used to do everything myself. The printing, marketing, answering the phone, etc. Today I have a full staff. I've been through a ton of equipment. Really horrible used presses and whatnot. Today we use top of the line equipment, and software, all of which is automated. We print for some of the biggest companies in the country and have easily become my local areas best print shop, serving over 1,000 local companies. Outside of work, I have a beautiful family and home. But growth doesn't stop. I'm constantly looking for ways to improve and become better. So this story will get longer with time.  


bottom of page