EDITOR’S NOTE: The Daily Press will feature a series of articles about local businesses, highlighting their history and what makes them unique. The series will run regularly in the Daily Press.
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ESCANABA – In store at 909 Ludington in Escanaba and online, North Coast Apparel offers tasteful designs with a northern, outdoor theme. Business partners Rachel Larsen and Tyler Johnson started heat-pressing vinyl in their kitchen in 2016 and advertising on Facebook, but Larsen said, what happened? “very small transaction” in its early days “It grew really fast.”
Larsen, the graphic designer behind North Shore’s unique artwork, started creating things he liked.
“I’ve had a few designs inspired by where we live, but not really Yooper” he said. “I would design and then we would use vinyl and heat press in the kitchen. We did this for about several months.”
In early 2017, North Coast Apparel moved into the center of the store. It can be recognized by its modern signage, window displays and altered baseboards, or by the brown-and-white snow Sophie waving at the doorway, begging passers-by to come in.
With the new, larger space, Larsen and Johnson were able to use the back of the building as a workshop to accommodate a wider range of printing techniques. Screen printing is a more involved process than vinyl and requires a few special materials, but the results are more long-lasting and many people prefer the sophisticated look.
For vinyl printing, a design is cut from a sheet of material that is more sticky on one side and comes in rolls; is negative space “weeds” removed and heat pressed onto the fabric to adhere the design.
Screen printing involves dividing the design into one layer for each color; printing each layer one by one on transparency sheets in black color; emulsion immersion screens, photosensitive liquid; exposing the transparency-coated screens to light to harden the emulsion only in the negative space; washing screens and preparing them for later use as stencils for inking fabric.
Larsen learned screen printing at his previous job and brought those skills with him to the new company.
They also have an embroidery machine, which takes the work out of stitching, but re-digitizing the artwork requires Larsen’s computer time. He described the process as painful and very difficult to learn.
“This is an art form. It’s fun, but it’s a nightmare.” talked about digitalization.
The product line expanded, and Larsen kept his word against it “Kitschy, gas station stuff,” added some Upper Peninsula designs and people love them. They started making hats as well as making stickers. Apparel offerings have grown slightly, but t-shirts and hoodies remain big sellers.
Most of the items sold in the store are made in-house, and Larsen said it hurts her pride to have to ship anything. “And when we order things that we can’t make, we like to buy from 99% Michigan businesses most of the time.” he said. He said North Shore has a high standard and they don’t let subpar products out the door.
Several customers came and went during the interview with the Daily Press at the store, and none left empty-handed.
“These guys are the best” said Bob Stasewich, who came to buy his daughter a present. “And you can quote me on that.”
North Shore patrons will likely see Larsen behind the counter — or maybe one of their employees. Johnson has a full-time job elsewhere, but she keeps the books and also does her art.
Adorning the walls of the North Coast are framed posters of attractive people in scenic settings wearing North Coast Clothing. Models are friends, family and real clients. According to Johnson, all but one of the shots sent by someone out west were taken by Johnson.
More of Larsen’s art can be seen in unexpected places around town. Her skills are used when businesses want to breathe new life into an old logo, and when startups or individuals need help creating a design from the ground up.
One of Larsen’s designs depicting selected buildings from Escanaba—the Port Tower on the left, the Market on the right, and several storefronts in between—was purchased by the Downtown Development Authority and can be seen in materials around town.
They weren’t going to take custom orders at first, but inquiries began to circulate early on and now a good portion of the North Shore’s business comes from organizations that rely on printing workwear and eventwear for the high street business. and is run by two Escanaba natives.