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Photo by Adam Wilson on flickr, used under Creative Commons license

Gargantua Printing: Wear your politics on your sleeve

By Lee Pepper on April 14, 2016


At Apt613, we love profiling the scrappy upstarts of Ottawa, people working on their dream projects, sharing an idiosyncratic vision, and reflecting the wide range of interests, backgrounds, and talents present in this city.

Gargantua Printing, a new, Ottawa-based one-person print shop, caught my eye because of their cute yet outspoken designs and their commitment to financially supporting the causes their shirts and patches endorse.

Gargantua is the work of Cayce Ainsworth, who describes themself as “a queer, bilingual Franco-Ontarian from the North”.

I’ve gotten messages from people saying… that something as simple as a t-shirt I made acknowledges their experience and helps them cope or unwind.

Gargantua’s “They” pronoun shirt, for instance, supports Kind, of which Ainsworth, who identifies as trans, genderqueer, and non-binary, is a Board member.  Kind provides services and a welcoming social space for Ottawa’s LGBTTQ+ communities.

No More Spoons, Only Knives Left” has been Gargantua’s most successful shirt to date, after being widely shared online. The shirt references spoon theory, a way of describing the way chronic illness and disability require people to carefully conserve their energy.

Apt613 spoke with Cayce Ainsworth of Gargantua Print by email about their products, the weirdness of the screenprinting industry, and Gargantua’s plans for the future. This interview has been edited.

"They" pronoun shirt. $5 from each sale goes to Kind.

Sales of the “They” pronoun shirt support Kind.

Apt613: How did Gargantua get started?

CA: Gargantua technically got started in 2007, when I bought screen printing equipment from my then employer. I was naive and paid far too much for what I got, not to mention that I was then indebted to a person with less than savory business morals as a result. I’d had lofty goals for it since then, and while I did some contract work here and there, it wasn’t until recently that it actually started paying off. Really, that equipment has been a boat anchor for most of the last nine years, and even put strain my relationship with my partner. If I had any advice for anyone looking to get into printing, or if I could do it all over again, it would be to keep it simple and within means. A DIY setup may not be ideal, but you don’t need big fancy equipment to push ink through a screen onto a t-shirt.

What is appealing to you about running your own business, & what has been challenging?

I’ve been working in print shops since before I graduated from college, and I have to say, there’s a weird pattern in this industry; a lot of Napoleon complexes, a lot of lies, a lot of willful ignorance of labour laws, and a whole lot of stick-and-carrot to keep beleaguered employees from quitting. Also, for some reason, just about every shop owner is called Mike? It’s fortunate mind you, that my current 9-to-5 is much more tolerable than jobs in print shops past.

Anyway, it would be a dream to work from home full time, still bringing in an income while being able to watch my son, and have my partner able to work at the same time.

While Gargantua isn’t big enough to be a full-time gig just yet though, it’s at least nice to work on something whose politics I shape, and whose customer base is not only carefully selected, but closely aligned with my interests. The reward in it is more than being able to support my family though.

While I couldn’t do a trade, I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, and there’s something so intimate in art made this way, when it’s a choice, as there are a multitude of other ways to do it easier now. Even if I farmed it out though, to a big fancy automatic press somewhere, I’d probably have to take a larger cut, meaning the causes my shirts support would lose out.

Sales of the "March with us" patch support Trans Lifeline.

Sales of the “March with us” patch support Trans Lifeline.

You mentioned on Gargantua’s Facebook that you want to demystify the printing industry and help other people learn to print. What have your experiences been with other printers or with learning to print, and why is it important to you to share skills?

Part of the strange pattern I’ve seen in print shops is an obsession with secrecy, as if putting ink on a shirt was some mystical process only the elite should posess. Every second print shop owner thinks they’re doing something nobody else is, and if their clients or competition figure it out, it’ll either lead to a race to the bottom for pricing, or they’ll have to close up shop.

Truth is, screen printing has been around for a thousand years in one form or another, and it’s proven incredibly effective in the last century for spreading information and artistic expression. It’s our insitance on “how to do it right” that took it out of the hands of artists and activists, and put it into the hands of businessmen who just want to milk youth soccer teams for all their fundraising money.

Whatever the method, this can still be a really accessible form of printing, so I’d love to do my part to get people getting their hands dirty. I have the equipment, but I plan on walking people through alternatives they can use at home, while still showing them what’s an admittedly pretty cool process if they want to go further with it.

Spoon Theory's original intent was to describe living with lupus, but it's since entered common parlance for many invisible illnesses. When you've run out of spoons, you've run out of the ability to cope. Sometimes all that's left are knives. $5.00 from each purchase of No More Spoons shirts goes towards Lupus Ontario

Sales of the “No More Spoons” shirts support Lupus Ontario

What kind of response have you gotten to your designs? I saw that your No More Spoons shirt had gotten a ton of shares online.

The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. It takes all of two seconds to see that the No More Spoons shirt has basically become the flagship product, but I’m blown away by the messages I receive with orders of all of my prints. These silly little single colour chicken scratches of mine are really touching people, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better start, or a better sign that I’m doing something right. I’ve gotten messages from people saying they work in rape crisis centres, or that their chronic pain keeps them in bed for days on end, and that something as simple as a t-shirt I made acknowledges their experience and helps them cope or unwind.

Are there other designs or themes that you’ve got in mind for the future?

I have a few in mind, and with the fervour of the initial sale of the No More Spoons shirt behind me, I’d like to get on them soon. I want to do more for my trans peers, though considering how marginalized a population that is on average, and how a t-shirt can be exorbitantly expensive for some, I may have to tweak exactly what that looks like.

I want to do something to help support POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate & Resist) as well, but seeing as I’m not a sex worker myself, I’ll have to think carefully about how to tastefully make a print that I also profit by, while still staying in my lane. Alternately, there’s a series of portrait prints I’ve been hoping to start for a while now, which I’d like to get started on. The idea would be to showcase queer folk from different communities, increasing queer visibility, and also donating to causes close to the models.

Are your shirts available locally in Ottawa, or do you have plans to sell them locally?

I don’t have anything for sale locally at a retail level, and the overhead involved in printing a shirt in anticipation that it’ll sell is a little above my comfort level at the moment. At the very least though, I’d like to get some patches into the hands of a few queer-friendly spaces in town. There have been a few conversations here and there. Soon!

Are there other people, businesses, or organizations doing stuff in Ottawa that you’re especially excited about currently and would like to give recognition to?

I’m really looking forward to seeing the next few steps of Ningoshkoz. It’s a grass-roots project aimed at community building and explorations in art and media, started by fellow Kind board member RJ Jones. They’re one of the recipients of this year’s Promdemonium fund, and judging by what they’ve done already with just a few scraps of fabric and some stencils, we’re in for the kind of creative endeavours and perspectives that Ottawa very rarely sees, but desperately needs.

You can buy Gargantua’s designs online at their storenvy, or find them on Facebook and Twitter.