By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BIG SKY – If you own apparel adorned with the logo of your favorite Big Sky business, chances are Josh Tozier printed it. Tozier and Alaina Stinson’s Big Sky Shirt Co. has printed T-shirts, jackets or hoodies for the Big Sky Fire Department, Blue Moon Bakery and Grizzly Outfitter’s Rental/Repair shop, to name a few.
Tozier and Stinson both grew up in Waterville, Maine and after living separately in locations around the west, reconnected in Big Sky when Tozier moved from Lakewood, Colo. in November 2008. He was doing freelance graphic design work for clients back in Lakewood and locally, but was tired of doing web design.
“I was working at Grizzly Outfitters at the time, and Josh was doing freelance graphic design, but had always wanted to create his own clothing line,” Stinson said. After looking into getting his designs screen printed elsewhere, they decided to buy their own equipment and purchased a press from Bozeman’s Sven Gear in 2010.
They started the business in their garage on Rainbow Trout Run and began peddling their wares at farmers markets. Soon, people began asking when they were going to open a store, Stinson recalls.
“We had never really given a store too much thought since we had originally planned to ski during the day and print at night,” she said. “Opening a store was going to take that luxury away.”
They still manage to get a few runs a day and close their retail space on Snowy Mountain Circle – across the parking lot from Gallatin Alpine Sports – until 3 p.m. when there’s six inches or more of fresh snow at the resort. Otherwise, the shop they opened in December 2011 is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Soon after it opened, Big Sky Shirt Co. was honored with the chamber’s Green Business of the Year in 2012. The water-based inks it uses are environmentally friendly and free of toxic chemicals, and its cleaning products are soy based and biodegradable. All the apparel and accessories are eco-friendly and/or made in the U.S.
“At first we struggled with this decision, because there are a lot of products we desperately wanted to carry, but didn’t meet our standards,” Stinson said. “However, when one door closes, another opens and because of our standards we have found a lot of really unique brands that are doing incredible things.”
They carry bracelets from The Base Project that are hand carved in Namibia from discarded PVC pipe, as well as shirts made from recycled X-ray film.
Walking into the well-lit retail shop, the couple’s commitment to conscious form and function is apparent. They designed and built all the fixtures and reclaimed some of the wood used in the store from the decking torn out of the Hill Condos at Big Sky Resort last summer.
Big Sky Shirt Co. has three part-time employees and plans to hire one or two more screen printers this summer to help in the production shop in the Peaks building, near the Hungry Moose. This is where the magic happens.
To print a garment, Tozier first takes a screen, coats it with emulsion, and puts it in a drying cabinet. He then prints a transparency, takes the dried screen out of the cabinet, etches the design and hits it with light. Once that’s cured, it’s washed away and then put on the press to register it. Finally, the ink is squeezed through the screen onto the apparel and then cured in a conveyor drier, which looks like a giant pizza oven.
The T-shirt company will print logos designed by Tozier, an existing design already in use for a business, or a new concept that Tozier develops with a client. An example of the latter is the Grizzly Outfitter Rental/Repair shop logo, with the bear chomping on a pair of skis.
“Josh is a genius at designing stuff,” said Nick Turner, Grizzly’s Rental/Repair manager. “The old manager wanted a bear eating a pair of skis… I don’t know how to create these things or get them on paper. He’s great at it, [he] just read my mind.”
Tozier and Stinson plan to convert the production shop into a full-service showroom this summer, where clients can choose their screens, ink and different apparel options.