Blue Button makes eco-friendly T-shirts

Whitworth students donned T-shirts for Community Building Day and dedicated a few hours to help local organizations on Sept. 18. What many of them did not know, however, was that their shirts came from a company that aims to serve Spokane all the time.

Blue Button Apparel is a non-profit, eco-friendly business founded by Scott Ellis. When Ellis was creating the business, he knew he wanted to employ teenagers from Hillyard and West Central.

“We wanted a business that didn’t require a lot of money to start and one where students could learn quickly how to work,” Ellis said. “We saw no one in Spokane focused on eco-friendly T-shirt printing.”

After deciding to execute the business idea, Ellis and his co-founders needed a name.

“It was totally random. My wife has a blue stocking hat which was nicknamed her ‘blue button,’ instead of blue beanie,” Ellis said. “That name found its way onto a list of names. Other T-shirt printing places had names that had a corporate feeling. We wanted something more fun.”

Blue Button employee Jake Hattich said there are many things that separate the company from other T-shirt printing places.

“Other shops are factory-style and use harsh ink,” Hattich said. “Blue Button stands out a lot.”

Blue Button strives to be environmentally friendly. The current standard of T-shirt printing uses petroleum-based materials that require paint thinner to clean up. Extra ink is taken to a hazardous waste disposal.

Blue Button chooses a more eco-friendly process, using 100 percent biodegradable inks that can be cleaned with water. The inks can be rinsed off the screen with soy-based chemicals, as opposed to acids. The eco-friendly standard of Blue Button even applies to the boxes they use to ship, which are 100 percent recyclable.

Blue Button provides clients with options when it comes to choosing shirts. They work with different T-shirt suppliers that use both inorganic shirts and shirts composed of recycled bottles and discarded fabric. Blue Button encourages their clients to choose the most environmentally friendly T-shirts.

“Even when clients don’t purchase a T-shirt made eco-friendly, the dying process is environmentally friendly and provides work for our [employees],” Ellis said.

By encouraging eco-friendly purchases instead of forcing them, Blue Button enables clients to consciously choose to make a small impact on the environment as they desire.

Blue Button seeks to make a minimal impact on the earth, so they intentionally align themselves with T-shirt supply companies that have similar goals.

“We work with places that are fair trade and provide good wages,” Ellis said. “We chose venders who do good things in their community”.

Blue Button’s suppliers use organic methods to protect farmers from harmful chemicals and build factories near the fields to reduce transportation costs.

The company also makes an impact in the local community through its hiring process.

“With our students, our goal is to be a grace-based employer,” Ellis said. “Our goal is to meet them where they are at and give them a hope of a bright future and support them to get them there.”

Ellis organizes rides for his employees, provides meals and snacks for them and gets them food from local food banks to take home to their families.

Many of the employees come from broken homes and have had to overcome tough personal challenges. The employees are incredibly smart and strong, Ellis said.

Marcos Lopez, a Blue Button employee, said all of the employees are like a family.

“We are here for each other,” Lopez said. “I love working here.”

Two weeks ago Blue Button moved from their Garland location into their new location at 1403 W. Third Ave.

The relationship between Blue Button and Whitworth goes beyond just the Community Building Day shirts. Many of Blue Button’s clients are Whitworth alumni and students.

Blue Button also has opportunities for Whitworth students to get involved with the business. The company provides graphic design internships and hands-on work for business and marketing majors. Blue Button is also currently seeking a student to work in their social media department.

Whitworth students can also serve Blue Button in personal ways by mentoring the employees or bringing them dinner once a month.

Contact information can be found at bluebutton.org.

Madison Garner Staff Writer

Contact Madison Garner at mgarner16@my.whitworth.edu