When picking out fabric for summer T-shirts, bamboo is not an obvious choice – cotton is more like it.
But at Blue Button Apparel in Hillyard, a small nonprofit that employs and mentors neighborhood teens, bamboo is top of the line.
“When you first mention bamboo clothing, most people go ‘What? That sounds itchy,’ ” said Scott Ellis, Blue Button director. “In reality it’s really soft and it makes for very nice T-shirts.”
Blue Button is the brainchild of Ellis who’s a parishioner at Crosswalk Church on East Gordon Avenue and a business major from Whitworth University. He said he wanted to do something for teens in Hillyard, and first he tried opening a coffee shop – a hangout place – but between permits and finding a good location, it didn’t work out.
About the same time Ellis gave up on the coffee shop idea, a counselor from Rogers High School approached Crosswalk Church asking for donations of Christmas presents for the estimated 130 homeless students at the school.
“That’s when I really started thinking of something else to do,” Ellis said. His brother-in-law prints T-shirts for fun and that seemed like a viable business idea with some solid teen appeal.
By last June, Blue Button was ready to go, and by October the first student was employed.
Two students from Rogers currently work at Blue Button, and Ellis hopes the company will employ 10 students by the end of this year.
And Blue Button is about more than an after-school job.
“We look at Blue Button in two directions: working with the kids and providing mentoring for them,” said Ellis. “And to work globally, look for fair-trade products and environmentally safe inks and cleanup products.”
The cotton and bamboo are organically grown and the main line of cotton shirts is certified fair-trade, using cotton grown and processed in India at a plant that uses wind and solar power.
The printing shop is upstairs at Crosswalk Church and counts 49 Degrees North and Whitworth student groups among its first clients.
Besides T-shirts in many colors, Blue Button also sells hoodies and canvas shopping bags.
“For now we are just wholesale, but by the end of May we hope to have an Internet-based store up and running,” said Ellis. “At some point I would love to cut off and go totally organic.”