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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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In Marketplace

Milwaukee-based Ink to the People gives aspiring shirt designers the chance to host their design risk-free.

Ink to the People brings shirt-making power to the masses


Sassy T-shirts are everywhere these days, especially online. And for those who have ever considered that their own cool design could join the money-making ranks, it's a pretty tempting enterprise.

But, if you ever attempted to put your idea into practice, you likely ran into the standard debacles of bulk ordering and ultimately lost money trying to strike it rich on your particular witty spin on "Keep Calm and Carry On" – that is, unless you used Ink to the People.

Unlike most traditional do-it-yourself design hubs, Milwaukee-based Ink to the People takes on the burdens of transactions and distribution, all while offering its community a risk-free place to market their design with the resources of a big-time shirt-making business.

"Whether you're trying to raise money for a cause or for yourself as a business, the traditional way is risky. You don't know what sizes you need to sell, or they maybe want a different color or what have you," said Ink's Todd Richheimer.

"I've seen (customers) take a dive because they buy 100 shirts, they think they're going to sell them because it's a great design – they believe – and they get stuck with the shirts. We take all of the risk out of the equation."

Part of what makes Ink so qualified to take on the many requests of a community-driven marketplace is the fact that it's an offshoot of Milwaukee screen printing and embroidery wholesaler Visual Impressions.

"The parent company, Visual Impressions, is owned by myself and my brother-in-law, Jay. We've been doing that for 22 years," said Richheimer.

"The idea of the online site was something that we've been working on, on and off, for the last seven or eight years. As we were starting to design our site, mid-way into it we had this epiphany of this whole platform of giving people the ability to sell their items instead of taking risks."

Using Ink's model, aspiring T-shirt designers can create their shirt and set a minimum quantity, shirt price and "for sale" window. Much like Kickstarter, if the design hits or surpasses its set minimum, it goes to print and is sent off to buyers.

"You might say, 'I want this to be up for sale for seven days, and I'm going to set my minimum quantity to go to print at 24 pieces. At 24 pieces, with my design and the garment I've chosen, it's costing me $8.50. I'm going to sell it for $15.' Then they have seven days to go sell it," said Richheimer.

"When that day hits – and when they've sold the minimum quantity required – the system pushes it into production. We then process all the credit cards and actually charge the cards. We do all the distribution for the people, and then we turn around and send the profit back to the user."

While risk-free design hosting is what makes Ink truly unique, it's not just a benefit for community members looking for individual sales. Richheimer added that Ink's ordering system also offers design functions that make private group ordering easy and convenient.

"It's really great for fundraising – it's like the perfect platform for fundraising," he explained. "Let's say you don't know what sizes and quantities people want, but you're paying for the shirts and they're going to come shipped to you. They can reach out just to select groups, like if it was a team or a club and they only had 30 people. All you need to do is use the system to gather information, and all you're asking for is what size they want. That's a really good option because then people aren't paying individual freight and shipping."

Fundraising is a core value for the team at Ink, who work to partner with a new non-profit organization monthly.

"For us to be able to give back to the community is a big part of the site," said Richheimer. "It's a win-win. It's marketing, but again, it's also being a partner in trying to help people. We really want to be as charitable as we can be."

Ink for the People's beta site has been up and running since April. Since then a combination of community partnerships and online marketing has helped increase traffic to the site, something Richheimer hopes will continue to grow.

"We're trying different things, trying to simplify it and make it as easy as possible for people," he said. "The long-term plan is to build up to a national brand, but most importantly we want to make it a very strong brand in Milwaukee. Ultimately, we hope that we'll have built a large enough community and large enough draw that the marketplace, as we call it, will become a place where you would come to see what's new and what's being sold. It's all about creating a community of users."


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