TBT: Customized T-Shirts in the 70’s

Author: robertinseattle

Digging through some old boxes of photos and memoribilia and came across a few things from back in the 70’s.

Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I’d made my first big bucks by building several successful t-shirt businesses. I eventually sold my businesses and properties in Toronto and bought a camper van to travel across North America and down to Mexico and back for over a year, eventually living in Paris where I did a lot of painting and writing before settling back in Toronto in ’75.

I ended up building a new business with t-shirts as customization became even more personal because of technology. My friend, Thach, and I launched FaceLift, to bring personalized t-shirts (and other products) into the mainstream. Xerox had brought out the 6500 color copier a year or two earlier and we had come across a company that developed a plastisol-coated paper that could run through these color copiers and produce full-color iron-on transfers that could then be pressed on to t-shirts, tote bags and all sorts of personal goodies. So we launched a shop inside the Hudson’s Bay Center Mall at Yonge and Bloor to generate retail business. Then we also pursued a wholesale business where we would provide these customized products to all the photo processing shops that were as popular as coffee stands are today. Anyone remember those? PhotoHut, PhotoLab and more. (Of course, those businesses are long gone with the advent of digital photography and photo processing inside of almost every major drug store chain these days.)

We even had a delivery driver pick up new orders and drop off completed orders from the day before to each of these stores in our growing customer base.

Then we really hit a big one! The Canadian Dairy Federation began their Wear-A-Moustache campaign to promote milk (I think they also eventually started this in the States too!). And we ended up partnering with them to create Wear-A-Moustache t-shirts as part of the national campaign. Orders would come in from across the country with some of the craziest pictures: Kids, families, pets and more… And we would print the transfers out with a colorful Wear-A-Moustache frame (all Thach’s brilliant artwork) and put white moustaches on each picture that came in with every order. We especially enjoyed dog and cat pictures. The images would be on a screen placed on top of the copier glass so we would have all these assorted white cardboard moustaches to put on all the pictures. I know we sold well over 20,000 of those t-shirts during the launch!

And here’s one of the old pictures I found with a friend and employee – David Jang – actually printing out one of those Moustache t-shirts. What a memory from over 40 years ago! (Another old friend I’d love to catch up with again!)

I eventually ended up doing graphic consulting work for Xerox and that’s how I learned about copiers and scanning which eventually inspired me to launch my color scanner startup SpectraFAX in 1983 in Florida!

What a flashback after finding one of our promotional buttons in my collection. And here’s a product flyer for the Xerox 6500. Throwback Thursday memory for the week!

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