Special to the Montreal Gazette - Calgary Herald / Jan 16 2012
When some people think back on the Quebec ice storm they remember sitting in cold dark homes staring at streets littered with tree branches. Darryl Zinman remembers working away at his t-shirt printing business filling what would become a massive order for his small operation. His factory space was one of the lucky ones that possessed underground power lines and he was furiously printing off non-stop requests for iconic “I Survived the Ice Storm of ’98” t-shirts – 10,000 silk-screened shirts in all.
While he survived 1998 very well, his industry was experiencing debilitating changes. Many of the biggest silk-screen printers were going out of business and potential clients were pitting the still operational companies against each other.
It would only get worse for the sector. Net revenues in commercial screen printing nationally decreased significantly, from $84.2 million in 2000 to $20.3 million in 2009, according to Statistics Canada.
With his business lean enough to go in a new direction – just he and his wife Judy operated it – Zinman decided to look at what else he could do with printing skills that previously had him creating t-shirts for a host of customers from museums to summer camps.
He began planning a café where he could print customized t-shirts while customer sipped on lattes. As he experimented with various techniques that would transfer designs onto fabric, one day he asked his neighbour if he could try his latest method out at a birthday party that he knew the man’s five-year-old daughter was having. The kids ended up loving it.
That was six years ago. Today, Creative T-shirt Parties has become an important player on the Montreal children’s party circuit. Zinman, 51, says he holds up to 150 t-shirt making events a year in Montreal homes, daycares, schools and offices, with some as small as 10-15 and others as large as 300.
He has also licensed his methods and designs to others who hold t-shirt making parties in other cities, including Ottawa and Toronto.
Zinman never did open that café, having realized he could simply bring a portable heat-transfer machine to an event and give kids outlined pictures he hired an artist to design and have them colour them on a special transfer paper. By the end of the party, everyone would have their very own customized t-shirts to wear home.
That’s exactly what happened recently at Sarah Scott’s eighth birthday party in Beaconsfield. Twenty girls were sitting quietly in the diningroom, all focussed on colouring, as they applied pastel colours to designs of dolphins, unicorns and butterflies on shiny paper the size of placemats. “Don’t fill in the eyes,” Zinman tells them, “It’ll look freaky.”
After the sparkles and the glow-in-the-dark application, Zinman begins the transfer process, placing the coloured designs face down on a t-shirt and placing them both between the two plates of a 200°C press that measures a bit bigger than a panini maker.
The “big reveal” comes about 45 minutes later as he peels off the paper and asks each girl to strike a pose with their new t-shirt.
Sarah’s mother, Loraine Beck seems happy with this activity. She has organized other parties, such as one where girls were making jewellery, and says that this type of party does not put all the onus on her to keep the kids occupied. “Darryl has it all organized. I can go see how the girls are doing.”
Creative T-shirt parties is not the only place that offers customized t-shirts for kids parties but Zinman says their methods are not as complex as his. However, he says much of the uniqueness of his product comes from him interacting with the kids and dealing directly with the parents.
He has patents pending on his method and on a home t-shirt making kit he hopes to market. He also hopes to branch out into seniors’ homes, where he can offer other types of designs on items like tote bags.
Zinman says he loves his new career. “I’m doing better than I ever did,” he says, though he adds that he eats way too much birthday cake than he should.