Garment decorators come in all shapes and sizes. There is no stereotype that can be made. P&P editor Melanie Attlesey speaks with Mike Cadman of Murgens Keep, who is certainly one of a kind.
Mike is the kind of man who would look better placed fronting a heavy metal band or riding a motorbike with his hair blowing in the wind behind him. Not printing T shirts for the local gym.
“I’m a six foot two, hairy biker and built like an outhouse!” laughs Mike. But printing T shirts is just what he has done for the past 30 years.
Mike’s story of how he ended up in the industry is fairly typical. An accidental happening. Back in the 80s and 90s Mike was a silversmith and specialised in making custom silver jewellery which he sold at bike rallies and music festivals. However, the recession of the early 90s saw the price of silver go through the roof and Mike found he could no longer compete with the competition from overseas manufacturers.
While making his jewellery, Mike was also designing prints for T shirt manufacturers in America for the music scene, which he got printed through a third-party. With his jewellery business on the decline, Mike took the plunge and decided to buy his own equipment to start printing his own T shirts and it’s from here that Murgens Keep began to flourish.
How easy can it be?
“I thought how easy is it to be a printer! So, I brought a little Redsail RS720c plotter and a press from eBay and started taking them out on the road. The plotter sounded like dial up internet. It was so noisy you could hear it from a thousand yards away,” says Mike.
In the early days, Mike rented properties throughout Manchester, including one in the Corn Exchange which was blown up by the IRA in June 1996. Another property was in Manchester’s old Coliseum independent shopping centre, which has now been converted to flats, and another was in a derelict building in Preston, which Mike managed to secure rent free for three years from the landlord on the understanding he renovated the unit completely.
Wanting to secure the future of his business and move away from the whims of landlords, Mike purchased his current premises in Walkden in 2014. Mike describes his studio as compact and bijou. Every inch of usable space and shelving is covered with either a printer, heat press or an embroidery machine.
Equipment ranges from Melco EMT16X embroidery machines, heat presses from Pressmech, an Oki Pro920WT white toner printer, a Texjet Plus Advanced DTG printer and various other items.
“The EMT16X is a fantastic machine and the great thing about Pressmech is that they can make you a platen of any size,” explains Mike.
The vast majority of this equipment was sourced from a visit to Printwear & Promotion LIVE! seven years ago, ready to kit out the new studio from top to bottom. “My wife and I love coming to the exhibition. We’re like kids in a sweet shop when we go! We love looking at all the new equipment which will just make our lives easier,” says Mike.
The most recent addition to Mike’s collection is a Roland TrueVIS SG2-300 colour printer, which was installed in June in the middle of lockdown. To fit the two-metre-wide machine in, Mike says an extension had to be built.
“That got finished and the day after the printer turned up,” says Mike. “Usually the machine arrives with two Roland engineers who install it for you, but not this time because of lockdown. The box got dumped in the car park and off the delivery driver went. We actually commissioned it all ourselves. John Harrison from Amaya phones us up a few hours later to find out how we were getting on, and I said to him ‘all I need are the IP codes, mate, I’m on it’. He couldn’t believe it! He was expecting me to still be building the stand.”
A God send
For Mike this machine has been a God send. “We’ve had the printer for nearly a year now and are on our third set of TR2 inks and if you speak to Amaya we are probably going through MoZaic vinyl quicker than anyone else. We use a roll every 10 days. It’s a fast, five-second print. For example, not long after we had commissioned the machine we had to quickly turn around 70 T shirts with a left-breast logo. It took us two-and-a-half hours. Using my Oki white toner printer, this would have previously taken me around five-and-a-half hours. The development of the industry over the last 10 years is just incredible. It’s got to the point where the only things you can’t print on are wool and water,” says Mike.
Mike is also quick to point out that the prints are bomb-proof. “They have excellent washability and are washer and dryer proof. The humble tumble dryer does more damage to apparel than anything else known to man. It’s our job as decorators to ensure the longevity of our prints and make aftercare minimal,” says Mike.
Although space is tight, Mike is currently looking at adding a post-bed embroidery machine to his collection, so he can attach patches to caps, a trend which is growing.
Mike is joined in the business by his daughter Susan and a couple of part-time staff. Mike says the small team specialises in no particular product area, but instead specialises in getting things right. Customers range from the local council, gyms, schools and tradesmen, even the local takeaways are catered for. “The orders we get are small enough to add variety to the job. For example, one day we printed 45 sweatshirts followed by 25 face masks,” says Mike.
Printing of face masks is now a weekly occurrence. Mike says until March he had not received a single request for hen party T shirts for 18 months, and face masks had replaced this gap in his printing schedule. “You have to adapt to changing markets. The industry will drop on one sector and pick up on another, and if you don’t notice you’re gonna lose out,” says Mike. “Fashions and requirements change and you have to keep up with them.”
Mike is firm but fair with his customers, and they certainly know where they stand with him. This attitude to doing business means that Mike has got a core base of loyal customers that return to him year on year with their orders. “If you’ve got a printer you can work with, rather than be dictated to, it certainly makes the difference,” says Mike.
And that just about sums up Mike and Murgens Keep.