Alums find printmaking success, by design
By Craig Brandhorst, CRAIGB1@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3681
For USC alumni Nick Wilson and Sara Thomas, Columbia-based graphic design and printmaking studio The Half and Half is a labor of love — but one that’s paid off, big time.
While studying graphic design at Carolina, the two routinely showcased their talents making posters to promote local bands. Then, in 2006, right around the time they finished school, the budding entrepreneurs turned that passion for printmaking and design into an actual business, albeit a small one.
“We started with $200, no credit, no loans and no savings,” says Wilson, who explains that to-date the company has purchased all its equipment outright. “We didn't take loans because we didn't know how, and we didn't know if it would work.“
Seven years on, that modest two-person operation with the shoestring budget has grown into one with eight full-time employees, three to five part timers and a gross income of over $700,000 a year.
“It took about two years to see any success because we are designers, not businesspeople,” Wilson says. “Once we learned it wasn't rude or unethical to charge according to market demands, we skyrocketed.”
By offering in-house production as well as design, the firm maintains an edge over competitors that only offer one or the other service. Their creativity, drive and attention to detail, meanwhile, have earned The Half and Half a national profile that continues to grow.
“Our first client was El Burrito on Harden Street and we got paid in tacos,” says Wilson, citing a popular local restaurant. “Our client list now includes Obama's 2012 Campaign, Dave Matthews Band, Live Nation and AMC's the Walking Dead, and they pay in money.”
Their success, of course, is the type that only comes to those who work for it. Still, the company’s founders do owe a debt of gratitude to their alma mater, specifically to USC's design and art programs, which Wilson describes as a “passive incubator.”
“My professors are now clients and peers, but they pulled us up to that point,” says Wilson. “Without them, we wouldn't have had any direction or guidance, and I don't mean in class. Outside of class —weekends, summers — they were always there for us and still are.”
Wilson also credits the university for providing the facilities he and Thomas needed in the early days, before they could afford their own shop and their own equipment.
“There are so many resources around the campus that you have to dig for and take advantage of,” Wilson explains. “I made every dime of my tuition work for me, and it was money well spent. If you complain about your tuition being too high, you're doing it wrong.”
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