By Erica Deforge-Zarza
Garrett Gerstenberger, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2011, began his printing business in a garage near campus almost a decade ago. Today he runs Isla Vista Screen Printing and Embroidery a nine-person firm that produces dozens of unique UCSB and Isla Vista custom-designs for merchandise sold in his store near campus, Island View Outfitters.
In between classes, as a Film and Media major, Gerstenberger was making shirts for Greek Life, clubs and organizations with the goal of creating a T-shirt empire. As a young entrepreneur his main focus was to complete school as quickly as possible, so he could devote all of his time to his developing business.
A decade later, the Isla Vista Screen Printing and Embroidery shop he co-founded with local Santa Barbara shop owner Jose Cardoso, has gone way beyond its student life origins to a multi-channel enterprise known as The Local Makers.
I recently interviewed Gerstenberger about his time at UCSB and his entrepreneurial success.
Q: You majored in Film and Media Studies here at UCSB. Why did you choose to pursue this major and what were your ambitions when you were a college student?
A: Originally, I was a Business and Econ major with an emphasis in Accounting. I wanted a major that was a balance of both theory and practical skills. I had always liked the creative side of film but told myself that I wouldn’t major in it unless it was a double major and complementary to my “real major.” I wanted to stick with the business and econ route to learn business management because my business was my major but I didn't quite get what I was looking for. I found the balance I was looking for in Film and Media.
Q: When did you and your business partner Jose meet? And how did your unique friendship evolve into creating Isla Vista Screen Printing?
A: Jose and I met in early 2009. I had my garage shop going for about a year and when I got larger jobs I would send them off to local print shops in the area. Jose owned a print shop downtown and after a handful of time, we realized that our skills really complemented each other. I was graphics oriented and could make sales and Jose had the experience of printing for 20-plus years and managing over 20 workers. We wanted to conquer what was always envisioned as the hardest area to get a piece of - Isla Vista, a unique college town where there were no other companies comparable to Isla Vista Screen Printing.
Q: Your print shop began in the heart of Isla Vista, then moved to downtown Santa Barbara, then in early 2018 relocated to New Cuyama, 55-miles east of Santa Maria. Can you tell us a little about New Cuyama and what influenced the move to the small rural town beyond the mountains?
A: We were introduced to the town by a non-profit that owns an old manufacturing workshop. They reached out with the goal of teaming up and helping create an economy in a town that has never really had one. The idea of having our shop in an area with such low-cost rent was very attractive. Our industry has a huge footprint for a low-cost product. For about a year we experimented there by setting up a satellite shop and hosting a few events.
When the mudslides occurred in January of 2018, it really shut down our business in Santa Barbara for about a month and a half. It was enough of a trigger point that we decided that if we are going to make a pivot and try something different, ‘let’s do it now.’ And we did.
Q: Your company has grown into a few design channels including Isla Vista Screen Printing and Island View Outfitters, ultimately creating the Local Makers. What does it mean to be a local maker here in Isla Vista and beyond?
A: I firmly believe that even though we are in a world of Amazon and next day shipping from one side of the country to the other, what's really important is the concept of microeconomics which is always going to thrive. The Idea of culture has to be maintained and that will happen on the smaller size. Millions of people over the last 40, 50, 60 years and currently, have experienced what Isla Vista is. We look at screen printing and designs as a lens on what our culture is. Expression of culture is one of the most important things for us as a species to understand our history - our past and our present. We do that through the lens of art and apparel.
Erica Deforge-Zarza is a fourth year Psychology major at UC Santa Barbara. She conducted this interview for her Writing Program course Journalism for the Web and Social Media.