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T-Shirts Translate Into Opportunities For Disabled Ohioans
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Columbus has dozens of T-shirt printing companies. But one them has a unique story. Dimensions Unlimited, on the cityâ€™s West Side, does more than design cool threads. As WOSU reports, the company is creating jobs and filling budget holes for a non-profit that works with the developmentally disabled.
â€œAlright, buddy, hit it.â€
From his wheelchair, Steve presses a peddle between his hands. As he does, a screen-printing machine kicks into gear and slowly spins several grey T-shirts to processing stations.
One station on the circular press slathers a purple shape across the front of a shirt, another sets the paint, and finally an outline is stamped in black ink.
The outcome: â€œA bird shirt.â€
The design was created by someone like Steve and others with physical and mental disabilities who receive support services from the Columbus Center for Human Services.
â€œThis is actually a design that they did for Winter Fair. Itâ€™s our biggest sale of the year,” Andrew Goldsmith, Dimensions Unlimited production manager, said.
The printing and embroidery business is a division of the Columbus Center and was created in June 2010. Shortly after, Goldsmith joined the company. It was new territory for Goldsmith who was in finance before he lost his job in the recession.
â€œItâ€™s almost for the better because Iâ€™ve come here and I love what I do…I get to be a part of something bigger,” Goldsmith said. “Itâ€™s not just about us. Itâ€™s about the guys who work for us.â€
For many of the centerâ€™s disabled clients, this is their first job. They earn minimum wage folding shirts and helping run the embroidery and screening machines.
â€œItâ€™s important to get started with the basics. Theyâ€™ve never used a time clock,” Goldsmith said. “So itâ€™s really just a matter of getting them familiar with it then stepping into the role of finding them the next job.â€
The sale of the shirts at the Winter Fair generates revenue. A portion of the profits goes to the designers of the t-shirts. The remaining proceeds go back to the Columbus Center.
â€œJust to fill gaps in the budget. Weâ€™re state funded, so unfortunately thereâ€™s a lot of them,” he said.
Dimensions Unlimited has grown exponentially during the past two years.
It recently doubled its workspace. And in July the company bought the screen printing machine. Instead of producing 100 shirts a day, they are able to make 100 shirts an hour. Sales have doubled.
Tasha Wheeler is Dimensionsâ€™ graphic designer.
â€œWe have more orders coming in. Thereâ€™s more folding, and like theyâ€™re doing right now, getting the shirts out of the oven,” Wheeler said. “Thereâ€™s just, thereâ€™s a lot more action.â€
And Wheeler said the centerâ€™s clients get more than just a paycheck; they feel the sense of accomplishment.
â€œThey love it when weâ€™re printing their artwork on shirts and things like that. Itâ€™s just an awesome day for us. And when we get to go show them the final piece thatâ€™s a lot of fun and really rewarding,” she said.
Now that Dimensions can meet demand, Goldsmith said he wants to promote Aspire Threads, the T-shirts designed by the centerâ€™s individuals. Some of the hip tees feature mountain landscapes and animals. And shirt designers get $35 for the art work.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t necessarily seem like a lot, $35, but for somebody who maybe thatâ€™s their first paycheck in a year…if we could sell more I would ultimately love to be able to give them $50 or $100 if we could get the demand for the shirts themselves,” Goldsmith said.
In all, the center employs 52 of its clients, about half, in a variety of tasks.