Apparels, Printing

WOMEN OF CHANGE

At BELLA+CANVAS, we’re different. We believe the beauty is in our differences. We design tees that fit and flatter every woman. We stand with all women in challenging and changing the status quo. As we launch our Female Edit 2.0 collection, we decided to talk to three strong individuals within the decorated-apparel industry to learn about how they got their start, their proudest moments and what opportunities they see ahead for women in the industry.

You’ll meet LaTonna Roberson, who’s printed more than 1 million T-shirts, and Chris Slivar who works at the first woman-owned screen-printing company right here in Los Angeles (they’ve both printed amazing T-shirts to commemorate Kamala Harris becoming our first woman vice president). You’ll also meet Megan Spire, BELLA+CANVAS’ vice president of sales who’s been with us for 10 years.


One Million T-shirts and Counting

LaTonna Roberson is a creative visionary who overcame the challenges of growing a successful T-shirt business while raising four kids and balancing home life. Roberson, who owns Dallas-based Roberson Printing & Graphics and Tshirtshopdallas.com, grew her company from a single heat press to a fully automatic shop that has printed more than 1 million shirts for major corporations and apparel brands. In addition to running her printing business, Roberson started Lady Print Boss Training and Consulting in 2009 to help other women-owned startups and small shops on a budget grow and overcome the challenges that women face in the decorated-apparel industry. 

We sat down with LaTonna Roberson to ask about her start in the industry and where she sees the greatest opportunities are for women printers.

Q: To kick things off, what BELLA+CANVAS women’s style is your go-to for wearing yourself, as well as for printing?

LaTonna Roberson: My personal favorite is the 8816 Women’s Slouchy Tee. I’m a full-figured woman and this style is very flattering, and gives me a waistline. The 8816 is very comfortable and I can wear it with anything.  My hottest sellers for women right now are the 8413 Triblend Short Sleeve Tee and the 6682 Women’s Racerback Tank.


Q: LaTonna, you’re doing so much between running a profitable shop, consulting business and raising a family. How did you get started in the decorated apparel industry?

LR: I was always interested in apparel so I earned my college degree in fashion design. After I graduated, I opened a hip-hop fashion store. I was purchasing garments out of New York City but so were my competitors and I wanted something to set me apart. My then 9-year-old son loved hip-hop music, so I purchased him a Source magazine subscription. 

One day, my son brought the magazine to me and showed me an article about printing T-shirts, which were about to be the next hot thing. The article showed photos of rappers wearing these printed tees. That’s when I thought about my “history of custom” class. 

At that moment, I knew T-shirts would be my canvas! I purchased a Geo Knight DK-20 heat press and an Ioline cutter the next day. Things took off quickly and I needed a faster method to print shirts, so I decided to get into screen printing. I’ve never regretted it and still love what I do.


Q: That’s an amazing start to your business. What inspires you most about your work?

LR: I love telling a story. As I look back over the past 20 years at the shirts we’ve printed, I see so much history in the prints. 

Every print tells a story. It’s an amazing feeling to take a client’s vision and turn it into reality. The smile we get when a client sees their shirts for the first time is priceless.


Q: What advice would you give other women in this industry working toward leadership roles?  

LR: OK, here are my top four tips:

  1. Take every opportunity to educate yourself on every aspect of the printing business.
  2. Never take no for an answer. As a woman, I’ve been told I can’t do something so many times, but I knew I could. 
  3. Embrace your creativity and passion, and let it flow.
  4. Seek out guidance from other women in the industry. As women, we have the advantage of knowing how fabrics wash, how they feel and what others want.

Never take no for an answer. As a woman, I’ve been told I can’t do something so many times, but I knew I could.


Q: What’s your favorite T-shirt design from the last year?

LR: We printed a shirt that says, “Girls Clutch Your Pearls,” in reference to having the first woman vice president in the USA. It was very powerful.


Q: What’s the biggest opportunity for women in the industry? How are you a part of the forward momentum?

LR: There’s a huge opportunity for women in the decorated-apparel business. I’ve seen more female-owned startups in the past year due to women turning their hobbies into thriving businesses. However, women who are actively printing must also actively seek ways to automate their businesses and stay up-to-date with technology. 

One way I help women in the industry is through my consulting business. Lady Print Boss Training and Consulting helps women in the printing industry solve shop issues and grow their businesses, as well as teach them how to manage all aspects of their life. I believe that it’s only when you find a balance of your family and business life that you’ll truly be successful.


“We’re Tiny, But We’re Mighty!”

Los Angeles-based Deluxe Screen Printing sprung from two women’s passion for artisanal screen printing, love of cutting-edge fashion and the desire to be the first women-owned and -operated shop in LA. Elsie Acevedo and Liza D’Agostino started printing in their very own garage in 2008 and grew the shop into the go-to printer for bands, major design labels, gyms, schools and a wide range of other businesses. Unfortunately, Liza lost her battle with cancer on September 4, 2012, but her spirit lives on in how the Deluxe team treats their clients like family, giving each order the care and attention it deserves. Elsie motivates her team by always saying, “We’re tiny, but we’re mighty!”

We sat down with Chris Slivar, sales manager and creative director at Deluxe, to talk about what the pioneering shop’s been up to and how they are paving the way for Latinx and LGBTQ+ printers.

Q: What BELLA+CANVAS women’s style is your customers’ favorite?

Chris Slivar: Our No. 1 selling women’s style is the 6400 Women’s Relaxed Jersey Short Sleeve Tee! As apparel trends move towards more of a relaxed fit, the 6400 hits all the marks. It has a looser feel, yet a flattering fit. And the wide array of colors that BELLA+CANVAS offers in this style gives all of our clients the options they want. 


Q: How did you get started in the decorated-apparel industry? 

CS: I was working for a large commercial printer in downtown Los Angeles servicing all the major junior sportswear brands. In 2008, as the Industry was shifting, I had no choice but to venture out on my own and start from my garage. We started slow, offering sample-only printing for brands that were working with overseas printers. With my contacts through the years, I grew significantly in a short period of time and moved back into a warehouse in DTLA. 

We expanded our printing options and started offering both contract and custom printing. That allowed us to move away from sampling and instead focus on smaller runs. With lower minimums, we could service a variety of clients too small for the bigger commercial printers. Our business continued to grow as consumers demanded products produced by local small businesses.

We offer the latest styles, hottest trends, and highest quality apparel brands with print consultants on-hand to help bring your prints to life.


Q: What inspires you most about your work?

CS: The pure joy of producing quality work that shows in our clients’ faces when they see their prints come alive. 


Q: Since it’s been the “year(s) of the statement tee,” what’s one you worked on that made a big impact when it went out into the world, especially if it’s a message that promotes women? 

CS: Our most favorite tee was “‘K’ is for Kamala.” It was a historical moment for women and women of color as Kamala Harris took the office of vice president. We couldn’t be more proud or honored to have that print come through our shop. The message, the memory, forever embellished on a T-shirt.

Q: What advice would you give other women in this industry working toward leadership roles?
CS: Our motto is “Love what you do, and do what you love.” If you have a love for printing or apparel, find a like-minded company and pour that love into your work. Your hard work won’t go unnoticed and will take you a long way. 


“If you have a love for printing or apparel, find a like-minded company and pour that love into your work.”


Q: How do you see yourself and your company being part of a positive change for women in the decorated-apparel industry?

CS: As pioneering women in the decorated-apparel industry, we want to inspire other women and believe our love and dedication to the craft is a positive example for us. As Latinx and queer women ourselves, we have the opportunity to provide a safe space for other people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a priceless synergy.


10 Years at B+C, and Counting

Lastly, talked to Megan Spire, our vice president of sales, to get her perspective on how women can succeed in the decorated-apparel industry. She’s been with BELLA+CANVAS for a decade and has seen a lot of things change, from available styles for women to many more women taking leadership roles in industry companies.

Q: What BELLA+CANVAS women’s style is your favorite?

Megan Spire: The 6400, all day!


Q: How did you get started in the decorated-apparel industry?

MS: After I graduated from college, I was looking for a role in the apparel and fashion industry. Funnily enough, I found the listing for a BELLA+CANVAS outside sales rep position on Craigslist—of all places—and thought it would be a good fit. Now it’s 10 years later and the rest is history.


Q: What inspires you most about your work at BELLA+CANVAS?

MS: For me, it’s about the people. We have an incredible team of individuals who truly care about our mission, our mutual success and the difference we can make in the industry. We work hard but are in it together, and that makes the results that much sweeter.


“Follow your intuition. You deserve to be in that room, so don’t be afraid to speak up and have a voice.”


Q: What advice would you give other women in this industry working toward leadership roles?

MS: Follow your intuition. You deserve to be in that room, so don’t be afraid to speak up and have a voice.


Q: What’s the biggest opportunity (and challenge) facing women in the decorated-apparel industry from your perspective? How do you see yourself and BELLA+CANVAS being a part of a positive change?

MS: There’s a lot of competition out there no matter what segment of the industry you’re in. And the industry is changing rapidly as we see on-demand printing growing in a big way. This means lots of opportunity, but you have to be able to adapt quickly. 

Differentiation is also key. Your go-to-market strategy has to have a very clear purpose and brand identity. I believe BELLA+CANVAS helps you to do both; adapt quickly, because we’re always ahead of the trends, and to differentiate, because we’re constantly innovating.

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