Story and photos by Ben White
Monday afternoon yells productivity for Christian Harkson, Co-Owner of a local screen printing company, Disidual Clothing. Clad in skate shoes, slim corduroy pants, and a backwards ball cap, Harkson emphasizes the relaxed dress code that comes with being an employee at the Bellingham-based clothing designer. Demand for the company’s release of fall apparel has been high, and the law of supply and demand is alive and well in the rushed atmosphere that surrounds the shop. Disidual Clothing, now in its second year of business, is well on its way towards making Harkson’s dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur a reality; a dream many Bellingham business owners share.
“It’s hard to believe that two years ago we were doing this in your bedroom,” said Harkson to coworker Brendan Pape. “A, we didn’t know anything about screen-printing, B, there was dog hair in every print, and C, that damn hose with the crack would leak everywhere.”
While nostalgic memories from Disidual’s rather humble start began to get tossed around, it was obvious the two owners hadn’t had much time to let the reality of their company’s success sink in. In January of 2010, both Harkson and Pape were sophomores at Western Washington University pursuing their respective degrees in communications. Harkson said he considered majoring in business and marketing, but the rigorous math requirements were a constraint that ultimately made the decision for him. Many might shy away from entering the entrepreneurial world without a background in business, but Harkson worked his communication skills to his advantage.
“The biggest thing in business is just getting out there and talking to people,” he said. “I don’t think we would’ve been as successful without those skills.”
Thus far, those skills have landed Disidual Clothing a spot on almost every major university campus in Washington State and a handful of smaller shops in the Bellingham area. Harkson, pulling a freshly printed tee from the screen asks, “Does this look like Sehome High School green to you?” He nods to himself, seemingly in agreement with his own proficiency in color matching. The shirt makes its way through a drying machine which Harkson periodically checks with a laser operated temperature gun. Soon an entire box of shirts will have made their way through the dryer and will eventually find homes in the hands of several dozen Sehome High students.
Harkson points out that one of the challenges in owning a company like Disidual lies in the amount of competing business. “I think what makes us stand out is that unlike a lot of other companies, we own our own equipment,” he said. “We really try to focus on printing our own brand rather than having other people print our stuff.” Although the business sources its clothing from companies such as American Apparel, the designs are exclusive to Disidual. “We draw inspiration from life,” said Harkson. “Childhood experiences, representing our home town and really anything unique” will eventually find its way onto a screen.
Another challenge that Harkson faces is being a co-owner. Being a co-owner means that you don’t always get to do what you want, when you want, he said. However, two minds are generally better than one, and the owners of Disidual realized this right from the start. “There are a lot of times when I have an idea that might be crazy but Brendan thinks it’s good and we could make a lot of money on it,” said Harkson. Co-ownership means that not only do you get different ideas and opinions, but when things aren’t going as planned, you get to share in the struggles.
Fortunately for Disidual, the struggles have been kept to a minimum. The company recently moved into a new storefront location, and more importantly, out of the garage. In addition to the new work space, three new interns were added to the team. Two, like Harkson and Pape just a year ago, are students at Western. Brian, a new intern, is an economics major and political science minor in his freshman year at Western. “I’m just learning the business right now and just trying to help build up the company,” he said. “They [Harkson and Pape] are a lot of fun but at the same time we get a lot of stuff done.”
Disidual lives true to the concept of “all work and no play make jack a dull boy.” The regular combination of processing orders and printing while taking breaks to shoot hoops in the company’s private court or talking in a variety of comical accents keeps the mood light. “Where do I see us in five years?” said Harkson. “In five years I see us in freakin’ Nordstrom’s and eating lunch in a fancy restaurant. Either that or we’ll be here, printing tee shirts for high schoolers, and eating Little Ceasar’s pizza.”