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Monday Close-up: Local teachers collaborate for screen printing business

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Last Wednesday, after finishing up their day jobs as middle school teachers, Aaron Roth and Andy Dutton were hanging out in the garage behind Roth’s Provo home. With the winter season having given way to spring-like warmth, they threw open the garage door to let the afternoon sun illuminate their workshop, which is dominated by their 10-foot wide screen printing machine.

Roth and Dutton are the duo behind CoLab printing, and they met up to fulfill their latest online orders. The two bounce back and forth around the machine, applying their custom designs in several ink colors to t-shirts and sweatshirts while Roth checks the order list written in his pocket notebook.

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Aaron Roth pushes ink through a screen to print the CoLab label to the inside of a shirt on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 in the garage behind his home in Provo. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

CoLab is a hobby that’s morphed into a business. Roth and Dutton met and became enamored with screen printing while attending Brigham Young University, and after graduating they decided to try and fund their love for the art form by taking on client work and selling their designs. They easily raised $1,200 through a Kickstarter campaign, purchased a second-hand screen printing machine and got to work.

“The big inspiration is just everything outdoors,” said Roth of their designs.

Their style is simple with graphic representations of mountains or trees, some incorporating well-known quotes from such outdoor icons as naturalist John Muir and mountaineer George Mallory.

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A screen mounted to a printing machine reveals one of CoLab's designs on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 in the garage behind Aaron Roth's home in Provo. The design features a quote from mountaineer George Mallory that reads, "the mountains are calling and I must go." SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

When not working their day jobs as teachers or tending to CoLab, Roth and Dutton spend time camping, climbing, backpacking and whatever else they can do to spend time outdoors. Roth grew up in a military family and bounced around the country, and Dutton grew up in Idaho. Each of them found their way down to Utah for school, but stayed for the outdoors.

“Neither of us are native Utahns, but we love Utah because of everything it has to offer,” Roth said.

Their love for this state spurred one of their most popular designs, a graphic representation of the phrase “BeaUTAHful,” with an outline of the state of Utah inserted in the middle of the word beautiful. Roth and Dutton don’t lay claim to the base concept, as they located several dead or abandoned trademarks of the phrase, but their graphic representation of it is new, as far as they can tell.

CoLab owes a lot of its success to the relatively recent rise of the digital marketplace and social media - resources that weren’t available to would-be entrepreneurs only a few years ago. They raised their original funds through kickstarter, sell their products on ETSY and their own website, and raise awareness for their brand on social media. Search “beaUTAHful” on Instagram and you’ll be met with over 37,000 results.

Nearly two years and several thousand sales since their Kickstarter campaign was funded, Roth and Dutton say they could probably transition this into a full-time gig if they really pushed, but they’ve made a conscious decision not to expand too quickly.

“We try to keep it to a size where we can still enjoy what we do,” Dutton said.

Their teacher salaries aren’t overly generous, and they suspect they could make more money if they poured all of their energy into the business, but keeping CoLab as a side project helps ensure the magic of it doesn’t wear off.

“In reality, it’s 100 percent for the love of screen printing,” Roth said. “It’s very therapeutic to just get in the shop, print some stuff, design some stuff, see people wearing your stuff.”

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Andy Dutton applies ink to a shirt while printing orders for CoLab on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 in the garage behind Aaron Roth's home in Provo. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

Roth and Dutton both agreed that seeing their art out in the wild is the best reward for their labors.

“Printing the shirt is awesome, and I love that process, but seeing someone appreciate your work is like, as an artist, so rewarding,” Roth said. “I think a lot of times as an artist you can be really critical of yourself,” but seeing people buy and wear their designs is an affirmation of their work.

Dutton and Roth said seeing someone wearing their designs out “in the wild” is an amazing feeling.

“It makes you feel good inside,” Dutton said.

“It makes me want to give them like 5 free shirts after I see that,” Roth said, laughing. “But that’s why I’m not a business man.”


Spenser is the photo editor at the Daily Herald. You can find him on Instagram @sheaps.

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