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July 1996

The other side of Mirror Image

by Kris McGovern

Mirror Image is more than just another pretty face. The award-winning screenprinting shop has branched out in many directions since being profiled in ScreenSide nearly two years ago.

"A lot of different things are happening," says owner Rick Roth. "We're doing many things besides printing."

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company not only has found a lucrative niche in the world of training, consulting and demonstrating, but it also has created a multifaceted presence on the World Wide Web with a bevy of sites. More than that, Mirror Image continues to reflect Roth's social conscience.

An active Amnesty International volunteer for 15 years, Roth and his company provide not only low-cost T-shirts for various programs and fund-raisers, but everything from artwork to folding tables, too.

He puts every resource he has at the disposal of Amnesty International, he says. Mirror Image prints for that and other rights groups such as Oxfam-the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief-and Infact, which is best known for its consumer boycott of the Nestle Co. from 1977-84 and which lately has spearheaded a campaign targeting the tobacco industry.

"It sounds corny, but I think we should make the world a better place," he says.

To that end, Roth helped to set up a Web site about Iqbal Masih, the Pakistani boy who was murdered last year for speaking out about child slavery in the Third World carpet industry. Roth saw Masih speak at a school in Quincy, Mass., when the young activist came to Boston to accept the Reebok Human Rights Award, and he wanted to help when Quincy students decided to build a school in the boy's memory.

"I could do a Web site, so I did a Web site," he says.

He explained the World Wide Web and how it works to the junior high students, paid the costs of setting up the site and installed a speedy modem donated by rock musians Peter Gabriel and REM's Michael Stipe.

The students have used the site to create a 150-page tribute to Masih consisting of drawings, poems and comments that can be posted on an electronic bulletin board. It makes for a very emotional Web site, Roth says, one which is different from most information-only sites.

"It's a way for the kids to reach out to the world," and they have, garnering emotional reactions from as for away as Norway.

Those junior high school students also raised $100,000 to build the Masih school: They asked for $12 donations because Masih was sold into slavery as a 4-year-old for $12, and because he was murdered at age 12.

Then there's printing

Other sites on Mirror Imag's home page include Fotofolio T-shirts, Monkey Designs and, of course, Amnesty International Merchandise sites.

Fotofolio, one of Mirror Image's longtime and big-time accounts, publishes fine art and photographes by the likes of William Wegman, Richard Avedon and Frank Lloyd Wright on note cards, posters and tees. Many of Mirror Image's award-winning shirts are printed with Fotofolio art: "Revenge of the Goldfish" by Sandy Skoglund, for example, and "Lolita," a sultry Wegman Weimaraner.

Monkey Designs is Roth's own preprint line.

"It's kind of weird stuff, some vintage, that we sell mainly to boutiques," he says. "It's fun stuff"-like a giant bee inspired by a Coney Island ride or a shirt that reads: "Beer with your lunch-not only good, but good for you."

Mirror Image also has some reciprocal Web sites with quasi-related businesses such as BiscuitHead Records, Easy Air Guitar and Pizza Pad. Roth gives them space on his site, and those companies give Mirror Image space on theirs.

Roth initially got into the Web to appease the "computer geeks" doing the shop's in-house separations.

"Basically they took an interest in the Web, so we got into that to keep them interested," he says. Mirror Image does whatever it takes to keep good workers productive, and Roth encourages creativity and job expansion among all his employees.

"My better employees have other interests," Roth says. "They are painters, sculptors, musicians. I recognize that." If an employee plays in a band, for instance, and wants to print his own shirts, Roth lets him print at the shop during off hours.

Roth's employees also reap the benefits of Mirror Image's diversity. The company has established a working partnership abroad to teach its printing techniques to a Dutch company, for instance. Roth sends employees not only to the Netherlands for a month but to the recent FESPA trade show in Lyon, France, where they actually print shirts exactly the way they do at home-and just as they did at the recent APEX trade show in Boston.

That kind of hands-on printing demonstration beats a five-minute sales spiel hands down, Roth says. "People just flock around. They want to see the press in action.

We're a good advocate for those (press) companies because people can actually see the high-end application," he adds.

Mirror Image also sponsors workshops with Workhorse, a manufacturer of manual presses. Roth describes the workshops as an intensive, two-day affair where participants learn "soup to nuts" about light-on-dark photographic printing-"from scanning the image to printing the shirt."

"It's important in printing to control the whole process," he says. Workshop participants learn that how they create art affects how they print.

Roth believes that printers are better printers if they understand what the arist is doing-and vice versa. "Some arists have never had their hands on a squeegee," he says.

The workshops are conducted at various Workhorse facilities around the country, but plans are afoot to take them to spots around the world.

"It's one industry where the United states is ahead, and Mirror Image can have a place teaching people" abroad, says Roth.

"I don't really want to have 10 automatics," he adds. "I'm more interested in the training, the Web sits"-aspects of Mirror Image that he considers "in the real world."

For Roth, money isn't the point.

"Being rich doesn't make you happy...although being poor doesn't either."

One aspect of life that makes him happy are his four daughters. The oldest has spoken out eloquently against the death penalty; his 12-year-old twins recently protested Nigerian oil policy at that country's consulate.

"They're kind of carring on," he says.

Or just following in their dad's footsteps.

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