A Secret Success

The 15 employees of Atomic Screen Printing and Embroidery in Kennewick, WA, once thought an order to decorate 500 shirts was a pretty big deal.

Then, they had the opportunity to print souvenir shirts for finishers of the 2014 Lilac Bloomsday 15K, a popular annual race in Spokane. The team had five months to print 51,000 T-shirts. (Because the shirt featured designs on both the chest and the sleeve, it was more like a 100,000-shirt order, notes Greg Walden, Atomic’s owner.)

“When the shirts first showed up, I was unsure what I got myself into,” Walden admits. But completing the massive order “definitely added confidence to all our crew,” he adds.

Atomic had been bidding for the chance to print the coveted race finisher shirts for a dozen years, before finally getting the nod from organizers. It helped that two years ago, the shop printed 5,000 shirts for race volunteers. “They liked our work well enough to trust us to do the order,” Walden says. “This is the first time they had somebody outside of their area do it.” Kennewick is about two-and-a-half hours southwest of Spokane.

Working on such a large order presented Atomic Screen Printing with a number of challenges – chiefly, finding a spot to store all of the inventory; 51,000 shirts nearly filled up a semi-trailer, Walden says. Also, dealing with the same design day in and day out quickly became dull: “We were going to do it all at once, but after about the third day, you can’t stand looking at it anymore,” he says. So, Atomic workers broke the order into manageable chunks, spending a week each month printing 10,000 of the shirts. Staggering the job also helped the shop keep busy during wintertime lulls in business, Walden says.

One challenge unique to the Bloomsday race was the element of secrecy. The design of the souvenir shirt is kept under tight wraps until it is passed out at the finish line, so Atomic employees weren’t allowed to have cameras or cell phones in the production area when they worked on the job. “We couldn’t divulge the design we were doing until the race was over,” Walden says.