San Francisco Bay Area screen-printer Big Printing T-shirt Co. has been making a big streetwear splash for 20 years. Co-founders Dawaud and Kesney Muhammad literally define urban fashion nationwide and internationally. “We work with indie clothing brands,” Kesney says. “When we get a logo, we say, “˜Let’s make this into metallic gold print, or let’s add stitches here, or do DTG and add embroidery for texture and depth. Our clients demand the highest creativity, and we bring their artwork to life through multimedia.”
When Dawaud was just 19 years old in 1994, he launched a streetwear line right out of high school. Then, he decided to screen print his own apparel. “I told my printer I’d work for free if I could learn how to print and then buy the shop’s old manual press,” says Dawaud, who also got a formal education in graphic design. “That trial-and-error process, where I spent a lot of time screen making and printing, helped my work stand out.”
Today, the award-winning Big Printing team decorates nearly 200,000 custom garments, including T-shirts, hoodies and tracksuits, for more than 1,500 brands worldwide.
The screen-printing shop also uses InkSoft tools to connect with clients across the country””and make online selling a breeze.
Streetwear to Screen Printing, and Back
Dawaud pursued his initial goal to grow and promote his own clothing line. His brand became a major staple in the Oakland and San Francisco streetwear markets. In the back of his mind though, he remembered something his screen-printing mentor had told him: “If you start printing your own line, people will ask you to print their apparel. Your own line will fall by the wayside.” Then, that prediction came true. In 2001 after Kesney and Dawaud met (and ultimately wed), they started printing for clothing brands.
“The printer who said I wouldn’t solely do my own line was right,” Dawaud says. However, first the shop focused on the school market, offering spirit and club wear to districts across the country. “We always found our way back to working with brands though, since that’s our passion. And streetwear was part of our inception.”
Dawaud and Kesney created a “start your own clothing line” branding package. “We gave brands the decorated products complete with labeling to sell in stores,” Kensey says. When massive streetwear brand Karmaloop signed on, Big Printing experienced a huge jump in growth. That included printing apparel for notable streetwear brands like Planet of the Grapes, Dope Era Clothing and Beastmode, sold in hundreds of retail stores. “We’ve been going strong ever since,” Kesney says. “We’ve seen other companies imitate our concept. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
For example, Big Printing offers a “Hoodie Package” for $999.99 that includes 50 hoodies (delivered folded and bagged), a three-color print and custom inside neck labels. A “Ladies Tees Package” for $499.99 includes 50 tees folded and bagged, with a three-color print and custom inside neck labels.
Now, Big Printing is housed in a San Leandro, CA-based 6,50 0-square-foot facility. The team runs three automatic presses, 20 embroidery heads, a black-and-white DTG printer and four heat transfer machines. “We hire the best operators,” Kesney says. “We OK every single first print, or the run doesn’t get printed.” The Muhammads also station one or two people at the end of each dryer to personally check every shirt coming through production. “We’re big on quality control,” she says.
“˜We Wear the Brands We Sell’
Alstyle Apparel, Next Level Apparel and Independent Trading Co. are among the shop’s favorite brands. The products are soft, fashion-forward, print well, and most importantly, are always in stock. “We mostly move T-shirts and fleeces,” Kesney says.
The Muhammads carefully curate the wholesale apparel brands they sell. “We’ve spent a lot of time with suppliers to find the right pieces,” Kesney says. “We wear the brands we sell. We wash and test them. We also talk to our clients to learn exactly what they consider a premium shirt to be, and then stock styles at different price points.”
Dawaud’s passion is special-effects DTG and screen printing and “out-of-the-box” applique, chenille patches and 3-D puff patches. “This is how we elevate standard designs into premium gear,” he says. “You can see the difference.” As a recent example, Big Printing’s chenille-patch-adorned hoodies sold for $120.
The InkSoft Advantage
Big Printing partnered its backend and online systems with InkSoft’s solutions, with lots of bottom-line benefits. “InkSoft’s tools are great for managing our online sales,” Kesney says. “Plus, the tools help us connect more easily with customers all across the country. We have much more than a local base.”
For example, via InkSoft Designer, customers (who are often artists and have a great eye) can browse available garments””T-shirts, hoodies, fleece, headwear and more, along with USA-made and eco-friendly pieces””and then upload their artwork to view lifelike virtual samples. “It’s great because they can “˜play’ with their designs online,” Kesney says. “We don’t have to create physical samples, and they don’t have to pay for them. Our clients see virtual samples on different backgrounds right on their laptop screen. This process saves us and them a lot of time.”
When it’s time for Big Printing customer service reps to send out a proposal, InkSoft Proposals makes it super-easy. “At that point, we understand what our clients want,” Kesney says. “After customers view the virtual samples in the proposal, they approve the artwork and pay through that same proposal.”
Kesney also loves that InkSoft Proposals allows her staff and customers to add notes. “A customer might add a line to make the design bigger on the T-shirt,” she says. “Our design department skips the back-and-forth, and gets started from the mockup in the proposal.”
A Major Streetwear Mover-and-Shaker
The Muhammads have carefully curated their shop’s online presence. “One of our “˜unfair advantages’ is that we’re part of the demographic we design and decorate for,” Dawaud says. “If it’s dope to me, there’s a whole nation of people who’ll love it. A lot of screen printers don’t wear their product. That’s why we resonate with our customers. We’re kind of a unicorn.”
And it shows. Dawaud’s a social media maven, with his shop boasting 113,000 engaged Instagram followers (@bigprinting), many fashion and streetwear clothing brands among them. “The site’s a sales generator for us,” he says. “We connect with an audience who wears what we wear.”
For six years, Dawaud has posted high-quality photos of his shop’s chenille, leather and 3-D reflective patches, and dimensional embroidery, unique location placements (like a woman perched inside a pocket). He also uses Instagram Stories to give his fans a view of an operator running a “really cool job,” he says. “We also might show a chenille patch with a base price, and people DM me asking for more info.”
Big Printing also partners with UBM fashion to bring streetwear to Sourcing at MAGIC, one of the world’s largest fashion trade shows. “People come to our booth and tell us they follow us on Instagram everyday,” Dawaud says.
And, Big Printing’s here for the long haul. “People forget the importance of a handshake deal,” Kesney says. “We’re big on relationships, and we’re loyal to vendors and our clients.”B