Here you will have a true story about a man, who was so convinced about his own dream of doing things in a better way, that he dared to go against the stream despite all odds and others doubts.
It is not a coincidence or a matter of economy that ELSK has chosen this collaborator. We chose this company because here was a person who understood and lived out the life and the state of mind that ELSK also believes in. Unicorn Screen Printing is a Danish printing house where craftsmanship, quality and environmental awareness go hand in hand, that’s the reason for ELSK to choose this partner.
When Unicorn is printing on fabrics the colors are printed one by one. The ink is liquid when printed, and therefore, it binds to the fibers, and causes a very good durability. This method enables to print very fine details that are impossible to see otherwise.
Unicorn started in 2011 and has already expanded twice. We sat down with Mads Olesen, the owner of Unicorn, to try and understand how he works and what makes Unicorn Screen Printing unique.
ELSK: How did it all begin?
Mads: I had a small brand 8-10 years ago, and realized that the bigger printing houses practically laughed at me, when I only wanted 10-20 of each print. That’s why I took a quick decision that I wanted to print them myself, and therefore I bought some very cheap and lousy printing equipment, that I placed in a garage. I hadn’t got a clue of how to do it, and nothing of it became acceptable. Even today I blame the bad equipment that was poor and old, but of course I am also to blame. I am the type of man that goes along with new challenges without knowing how to do it. After a year I sold it all again.
I very soon began to miss the craftsmanship, and therefore I decided, that I would do it properly this time, and I am brought up with the thinking that this means education. I tried hard to find an apprenticeship, but without any luck, so I decided to educate myself and let the others “kiss my ass”. I bought materials from UK, USA and Germany so I could educate myself. I found films on the internet and studied it 2-3 times. That’s also how I quickly found the good supplier from which I could buy the right qualities. This time I had decided to be small but great. I wanted the very best on the market in the smallest scale as possible.
In September 2011 I bought a 4-color machine with a print station. Now I was able to print one T-shirt at a time with up to 4 different colors. I had a lot of contacts in this line of business, and most of them saw me as ridiculous.
I thought I had room enough in my extra bedroom at home, but when the packets from USA came, I realized, I had to find something bigger. I moved my things to an old building with old office rooms on approx. 30 m2 without heat or toilet, and a very bad insulation. But I thought it was great. Due to my own old brand I had made many contacts to people within music, and now I announced, that I could print merchandise and so on for them, and the orders began to come slowly.
After three months I realized that the rooms were too cold and old, so in December 2011 I moved into a 90m2 basement with heat, toilet, and warm water. Well, it smelled of basement, but it didn’t matter to me because it was a great improvement. I had more and more orders, and soon I had a wage for living. I stayed in the basement for about a year, I wanted to save money for buying new facilities. I had to say “no” to many orders because I didn’t have the equipment required. If the scale should grow to a new level, I needed more money.
In October 2012 my uncle, who really knows how to drive a business came and helped me to find a bank, but no one would lend me the money needed, despite that I had shown good results and had earned money enough for living the last 8-9 month. It was impossible to lend money as a small entrepreneur. Finally, my uncle decided to lend me the money, and I was so thrilled and happy, because someone believed in my vision and had faith for it.
In December 2012 I ordered a whole new and complete printing plant from the USA. 8-colored with 4 print stations, a big new lighting box, a drying oven, color systems, programs, and more educational programs. Now I had both totally new and upgraded equipment, but to have enough space for it, I had to move again. This time I went to 140 m2 in the same building in January 2013, and here I am now.
ELSK: What is the vision for this printing house?
Mads: My thoughts and vision with my firm are built up around “the little man” and his craftsmanship. I saw that more of the big printing houses had a difficult time. All of them have huge automatic printing machines, and all are fighting for the big customers. I saw a possible market in the little entrepreneur, the little carpenter, the little band etc., because many of the big printing houses only start up with minimum orders for 50-100 pieces, because else it is not profitable for them. I saw a need for the band only requiring 30 T-shirts for a concert, the little workman who needs 10 pieces for him and his apprentice, or the seventeen-year-old kid who has a dream of his own brand. If I could have the small orders, the larger would also come.
From the beginning I wanted it to be as “green” as possible. Many in this line of business still work with old and bad products despite that there is a constant flow of new and better products. That is the reason that I mostly buy my materials abroad, when it is not possible to acquire them here in Denmark. Mads Olesen, who is the only man in the company, is printing all by hand, because it gives a better print, and each print is manually controlled. It is an old craft, and it uses less electricity.
The plastisol paintings used by Unicorn is more “green” compared to the water based paintings normally used, those are 100% without lead and phthalates. The chemicals used for printing, cleaning and the break down of stencils and paintings are all made of 100% natural products as soy, citric and malic acid.
ELSK: Why do you use “green” paints and chemicals?
Mads: That´s the future. And its my hands and nose that is affected. I want to work in a way that leaves as little marks as possible on this earth. That’s the reason for the “green” line in the company.
ELSK: How many products did you start up with and which have been added since?
Mads: In the beginning I only printed on T-shirts and only with one type of ink. Since then crew necks, hoodies, shorts, underwear, and cardboard boxes have been added. The cardboard boxes are also for the customer that doesn’t need a thousand pieces, but just want some few special boxes for Christmas packages, or a clothing brand that wants to forward their products in a more exclusive way. Recently there are purchased a printer for caps.
ELSK: Try to describe the manual process, and how does it separate from industrial printing?
Mads: The process is basically the same, except that I am the one who prints it and not an automated robot rotator. With an automated press you only have to put the item on and of, and the robot will do the rest. It goes fast, but the old craft is lost. When I print, I touch every color, see every layer, and can restore if something goes wrong, more color is needed etc. You cannot do that with an automatic press. Of course it will take more time, but every item is constantly focused on, so for my part it is a matter of the product, the quality, the flexibility, and the craft. The manual work reduces the use of electricity and the chemicals are natural, what else does Unicorn do to prevent environmental impact?
All the waste is sorted and recycled. Error prints are cut into pieces and used for cleaning of the frames. The electricity we use is 100% from wind energy. ELSK is very exited about this collaboration, because it is of great importance for us that all parts of our value chain lives up to the high standards and demands for sustainability, that we want to comply.