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By Nathan Harper
Buying a t-shirt to support your favorite band and beer is an understandably well-ingrained form of self-expression. If you like to let the world know that you imbibe IPA and listen to bluegrass, there’s no better way to show it than to wear it on your chest. And for over 25 years Go West T-Shirt Company has been silk-screening shirts, hats and hoodies with stylized cruiser bikes, hop leaves and guitars that help make Northern Colorado unique.
Even before he moved here from Chicago, Go West owner Todd Lackie was a Colorado boy at heart. A screen printer since the late 1980s, Lackie used to fly west for Widespread Panic and Grateful Dead concerts so he could sell his self designed t-shirts to like-minded fans before shows at Red Rocks.
After a few summers of flying out to the mountains from the Midwest, he stopped wanting to go back. So, in 1998, with little more than his dog and his screen-printing skills, Lackie left the Windy City for the Choice City.
Hired on by Go West’s original owner, Lackie started at a very different company than the one that exists today. In place of the diverse list of clients — breweries, charities, theaters, bands and more — and state of the art machinery that now fills their building on east Lincoln Avenue in Fort Collins sat 30-year-old press printing designs for two customers.
It might not have seemed like much at the time, but one of those customers was New Belgium Brewery.
“We’ve been the sole printing company for New Belgium since they started,” Lackie said. “The original owner did a couple shirts for them while they were still selling bombers out of their garage.”
As New Belgium grew, so did Go West, and on the strength of their work they began to seek out and acquire many other brewery clients. The list is extensive, including NoCo favorites like Odell, Grimm Brothers, Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Fort Collins Brewery, Loveland Ale Works and dozens of others. In addition they’ve also spread nationally, supporting brands like Dogfish Head and Allagash.
More than just a steady client base, the beer business has also helped define the way that Lackie prints t-shirts.
“We try to run this like a brewery as much as possible,” he said. Impressively, this claim goes beyond Go West’s in-house brewing operation and the tasty Saison IPA that print operator and brew master Josh Clifton creates for friends and customers who find themselves sitting at the bar located in the back of the building.
“As we’ve grown with [the breweries], we’ve mirrored their charitable efforts as well,” Lackie said.
The biggest way that Go West gives back is by leveraging their successful relationships with their larger clients in order to help their smaller ones.
“We survive on our big brewery customers,” Lackie said. “And we pass those volume discounts and advantages onto all of our customers. When we work with bands, charities and non-profits we’ll sell them 200 shirts for the same price as if they were buying 2000.”
Lackie continued: “We’d rather pay our employees a living wage and help March of Dimes get maximum return than stack up money in the bank.”
“Cotton with a Conscience” is the Go West slogan, and for Lackie that means fair treatment for his community, employees and the environment. He prides himself on the Go West’s contributions to local arts programs like Streetmosphere, and on the tenure of his employees who help foster Go West’s fun and productive atmosphere. He also takes pride in the eco friendly measures that the company uses.
“We were doing it when we couldn’t afford to do it, and before it was a marketing scheme that paid dividends,” Lackie said. Go West is a large purchaser of organic and United States sourced cotton, and are proponents of the recycled poly/cotton garment industry. They also offer inks with fewer harsh chemicals and use citrus and soy based cleaners.
If all of that sounds rather serious, it’s because Go West wants to give back to the Northern Colorado community that has supported them. But this is still a t-shirt company owned by a Spread/Dead-Head, so even though Go West’s printing operation will soon be growing, Lackie’s eyes light up the most when he talks about how that will also allow them to increase their brewing output, too.
“We’ll be expanding to a 30 barrel system,” he said. There are also plans to put in another bar. “People can see the printing process happen, and enjoy a beer while they do it.”