Reporting, writing and photos by Emily Anderson
Nobody was expecting a new business to open up shortly after the pandemic forced us all into lockdown, but there it was — a big red sign reading MEGA LAB LIMITED appeared on the side of a brick building on Grant Street over the summer.
This is where Brian Baxter is turning his dreams of a creative community space into a reality.
Mega Lab Limited is a screen printing lab, a place where graphics are printed onto clothing. Silkscreen printing has been around for centuries, but it was Andy Warhol who made screen printing on fabric and canvas cool in the 1960s. Since then, screen printing has been an important part of pop culture. If you have any local band T-shirts in your closet from the last few decades, chances are they were screen printed.
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Baxter’s passion for screen printing started as an interest in stenciling on canvas in high school. As he got older, his friends began starting their own brands and businesses. Baxter saw a way he could help others with their goals and bought his first press. He made shirts in his basement while he worked two other jobs until his daughter was born in 2019.
Baxter had clients and he had the equipment. What he needed was a workspace that didn’t expose his baby to chemicals. He found the perfect location to set up shop, at perhaps the least perfect time. In March, he got the keys to 530 Grant Street.
Starting an event-based business right as all events were being canceled obviously presented some hurdles. One blessing, as Baxter put it, was that all his friends and family had lots of free time to help him renovate his new space. They scrubbed and painted every wall, discovered an extra 5 feet of height behind drop ceilings, and removed seven layers of linoleum from the floor. They completely transformed what had been a dusty storage area into an industrial-modern storefront and workshop.
The vibe inside the storefront is pure possibility — white walls with blank T-shirts in every color hanging around the room, ready to be printed on. The bright dyes displayed against the grey cement spark the imagination as soon as you walk in. Huge glass block windows flood the space with natural light, except for a closet in the back that works as a darkroom. There’s a drum set in the corner that you just know sounds killer in this space.
The original idea for the lab was for it to be used by the community as a DIY and event space. “It will definitely still be a space for anyone to come to do anything,” Baxter says. “Come sell items in our showroom. Get your project started. Create. Hang out. Practice with your band. Have a show.”
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Obviously, those plans have had to go on hold for now. But as the stay-at-home order dragged on, Mega Lab started a project called SLOHIO, which “basically saved the business,” according to Baxter. The deal was this: Mega Lab provided the materials and labor to create shirts for local businesses; those businesses sold the shirts and kept half the profits for themselves. For businesses, this brought in revenue without any up-front cost.
Today, most of Mega Lab Limited’s clients come from social media. Local bands, artists, and neighborhood organizations are printing logos and hashtags on shirts.
The best part about being a screen printer in Akron, according to Baxter, is “seeing the passion in the people behind the order. I get to see ideas become reality.”
Baxter and his teammate, James Twigg, provide graphic design consultation as well as apparel production for their clients. Every item is designed, printed, cured, and inspected by hand.
Baxter and Twigg take pride in that personal touch, but they do not compromise on quality. The lab is squeaky clean. They use flatbed manual presses and Pantone ink. The Pantone system is a color blending system that comes with special software and matches each color with HTML code, ensuring that printed logos and designs will consistently have exactly the same hue as they do on screen.
Baxter’s vision is one of inclusivity, collaboration, and opportunity in our community, so stop by the lab and check it out! You can see how everything works, share some ideas with the team, or just say hi. Mega Lab Limited is open 10-6 Monday-Saturday, and as an added bonus, it’s right across the street from Thirsty Dog Brewing Company.
Emily Anderson’s favorite Pantone color is 352 C.