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Apparel Graphics, Inc.: Quality Fosters Quantity
Turnin And Burnin
AG 3
Ink and press has been the name of the game for close to two decades at Apparel Graphics in Oakdale. A vision which began in 1997 by Jason Turnage, now employs over 20 and operates in 12,000 square feet of shop space. Photo Contributed

It’s been almost two decades since Paul Riva joined forces with his best friend to pursue a career in the printing business. It’s a passing of time which visibly stumps the owner of the Oakdale-based business Apparel Graphics, Inc. as he recalls the early days of specializing in screen printing and embroidery.

A company which was first founded by Jason Turnage in 1997, a 20-something chasing a dream and finding a niche within his passion.

“We got started because we’re into art,” Riva said of the company’s beginning. “Jason was always really good at drawing. I was good at drawing, into painting and that’s where it started.”

The early days of the business for the two man team included 17 hour days, late nights and early mornings doing what needed to be done to build a business. Gas station runs to grab snacks and a Mountain Dew were a regular occurrence as Riva reminisced on how it all started.

Earlier this month the Ackley Circle-based business was acknowledged in Las Vegas, at the 2016 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) Expo with both a Gold and Bronze Award in the Simulated Process Screen Printing Category.

“I am very proud of our entire team,” Riva said of the acknowledgement. “Our work was compared to the best in the world, and we came out on top. That’s quite an accomplishment!”

Just months shy of hitting the 20-year anniversary of the grassroots business, Riva shared his pride as well as gratitude for what the business has become, noting his gratitude for community support in the way of work, as well as a portfolio which hosts 1,000 clients all over the country. The company currently occupies 12,000 square feet and is it at its limit.

“We’re out of space. We’re at our limits again,” Riva said.

“It’s tough you know,” he continued. “I’m constantly explaining to people, when we started we were kids. We’re getting things right and on track over time. The things we’re doing now we should’ve done before we opened our doors, but when you’re young you don’t think about this stuff.”

As testament to those early days, Riva recalled days he and Turnage would turn on the answering machine and head off to the skate park for a few hours to enjoy the day. In 2001, Riva broke off from Turnage to spend some time in Costa Rica. When he returned, he purchased an embroidery machine and eventually the two merged to form a lasting business bond. One they envisioned would last a lifetime … and it did.

In 2008 Turnage was diagnosed with cancer. In 2012 at the age of 39 he lost his life to the disease. Riva continued the business and found himself in a place which was unfamiliar, the front man.

“It’s easy for me to sell what we do,” Riva said of the product and quality of AG, sharing his comfort with the production side and behind the scenes work.

“They respect the fact that I’m super hands on,” he stated of their customers. “The business since Jason passed is completely different. We do the same thing. We’re doing printing and embroidery, but we’re doing it on a completely different level.”

If the 12,000 square foot occupied space isn’t proof enough of the growth, the 10 hour day workload of a staff of 20 is. A staff of 20, which Riva and his right hand man Brett Weitl tout as the best in the business.

“Our quality is just insane right now,” Riva said of the print and embroidery work produced by the team. “We’re really focused on company culture and trying to make it a pleasant place to work. If people are happy you get good results. No one wants to come to work and be miserable.”

“The results are there,” Weitl said of Riva’s approach and how he treats the staff at Apparel Graphics. “We’re fortunate that we have the staff that we have from a production standpoint. Paul’s built an amazing crew of talented people, but we do have some stringent guidelines as compared to most people in our industry. Hence these awards that we’ve won.”

Riva shared he’s never been one to submit work for trade acknowledgement. Just a few days before judging was to be hosted he was contacted by a friend in the business inquiring if AG would have a submission.

“It was like a three minute decision,” Riva said of the SGIA participation. “I picked some prints I thought were cool and apparently they were.”

“To be frank we need to do a better job of promoting ourselves,” Weitl added.

Both noted that the work submitted was not just a great representation of the AG’s work, but also its attention to quality and detail. Each sample submitted was not freshly printed for consideration, but rather collected from an area where a handful of samples are kept from past work.

A business, however, which began as two kids ‘turning and burning’ as they say, has now morphed into a company which is a family of 20-plus, producing product work nationwide.

“The loyalty, it goes both ways,” Riva said of the team and their support for one another, making note of an instance when the shop was closed and work jobbed out to a friend so some staff could be with their mother, battling a brain tumor at the time.

“Things like that go both ways,” Riva said of the two week shutdown and financial loss to the business. “If they see the workload is heavy and I’m stressing to get stuff done, they’re here for me. I wanted all of them to be there. I sent all the work to a friend and let them go to the hospital to be with their mom. There was no question it was the right thing to do.”

As for the future of the business and the decade to come, both men are certain of one thing, the growth and quality will continue.

“Ten years from now,” Riva pondered, “I have no idea where we’re going to be 10 years from now. Hopefully on a beach in Costa Rica.”

“Our craft. Our passion. It’s plastered everywhere,” Weitl said of the company mission. “He (Riva) has that. So when you ask 10 years from now, yeah, hypothetically it sounds great … But I’ve seen myself working side by side with him, that there’s so much love that goes into this grind. Who knows!”

Apparel Graphics is located at 1858 Ackley Circle, Oakdale. Information regarding their services and client base can be found at