Above All: Local
The idea was clean and direct: Lift others in the community through art, environmental responsibility, and technology.
Driven by local pride and social awareness first, and profit second (if at all). It's not the type of idea you pitch to corporate investors, because if you look too closely - the "business" model doesn't scale, has small market capitalization, and isn't easily transferrable - and that's totally okay.
It Was Never About Business Anyway
Captial "B" business that is, sure we expressed our sense of local pride through the design and sale of custom goods, but we sourced our shirts through local thrift shops - paying full retail prices and hand-selecting each one for wear and its ability to accept ink. We reclaimed and recycled our source materials in an effort to reduce the textile footprint in the Lethbridge dump - creating points of discussion around the impact of fast fashion and the ugly side of materialism.
Coalbanks & Company is a side project our family created last year. My 30 year run as a graphic designer combined with our heart for community non-profit projects helped to launch local-centric apparel made from reclaimed materials and distributed through independent businesses in Lethbridge.
It's About Our Story
Through our time spent at the Galt Museum & Archives, we unearthed more than enough history to help tell the Lethbridge (formerly Coal Banks) story. From illegal trade of "Bug Juice" by Montana Whiskey Traders for Buffalo hides, the establishment of trade lines via the railway to the mining of coal seams on the banks of the Milk River - there is an abundance of material to reinterpret as modern brand material and help reignite the imaginations those who may be from here, but never stopped to listen to the echoes of a time long-forgotten.
Names like Healey, Hamilton, Potts, Magrath, Lethbridge, Stafford and others - aren't just street names, but a signal that Lethbridge history is as colourful, dangerous and exciting as anything Hollywood produces.
Armed with a dusty trade-school background of paper print production, I set up a traditional silk screen press in our garage and created a few designs before settling on the typography for the original "Coalbanks & Company" tee. It was well received at local retailers and festival markets and I'm pretty sure we bought every plain black, white or grey t-shirt donated to MCC, Value Village or Salvation Army over the Summer months.
We adopted Instagram to help shine a light on our new venture - and quickly grew to 800 local subscribers in three months. Lethbridgian pride was communicated through our hats and tees without hesitation, and it was a great test run. As local artisans, we skipped the headaches that can come with anything business related and used the Winter to research more local stories - eager to unveil new art tied heavily to place and people that shaped our buildings, neighborhoods and industry.
This Summer we'll unveil more Coalbanks & Company apparel with a slight pivot, we're adding content creation and social media support to independent business, non-profits or anyone else dedicated to elevating Lethbridge and the people that define it. We saw great traction with our social media efforts last year, and can't wait to share it.
Look for Coalbanks & Company apparel at Stoketown Cafe, in the heart of Lethbridge - year round.