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Custom T-shirt shop owners seek to inspire others through creativity

EAST SPENCER — The first time that LaChelle Hines attempted to create a custom-made T-shirt was almost her last.

LaChelle’s husband, Steven Hines, is a full-time healthcare professional, but has been making custom T-shirts as a side business for more than five years. When he went to work one day several years ago, LaChelle decided that she’d try to help him by creating a few shirts. The result, she said, was not good.

“My first shirt I made, I did it on a transferred image and it came out backwards,” LaChelle said. “After that I was like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’”

After wearing her mistake “for a little while,” LaChelle did eventually give it another shot. And this time, the words on the shirt were legible. 

“I played with it, got it right and then I was in it to win it,” LaChelle said.

That was four years ago. In November, LaChelle opened up her own custom-designed shirt shop called Inspiru in East Spencer, where she prints specially-made logos onto cups, hats, shoes and shirts.

The bright interior of the shop, located at 935 S. Long St., is a far cry from the garage of her Charlotte home where LaChelle started helping her husband make shirts.

After operating the business from their home in Charlotte and then in Salisbury, LaChelle decided it was time to upgrade and opened a physical shop in East Spencer. 

“We outgrew the house. We had nowhere to put machinery, nothing,” LaChelle said. “We had nowhere to walk around. This building was vacant and I thought it’d be a great place because I’m right across the street from the daycare and it would help build the community in a positive way.”

Ci’Ora Williams and LaChelle Hines pose in the front of their new store. The daughter-mother duo spends plenty of quality time together designing and printing custom tees. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

LaChelle took over the building where 2 The Tee Barbershop had once been and immediately began a renovation process.

The burgundy and black walls were transformed into a crisp white and the brown cabinets were painted over. A dry-erase board was installed on the wall behind LaChelle’s desk to help her keep up with orders. That white board has quickly filled with names and numbers of customers.

Despite doing little to no advertising, LaChelle has seen her business expand.

“It’s just been word-of-mouth,” LaChelle said. “Once I did the hoodies for this one particular group, there were a lot of people in that group that started coming to me and spreading the word. Now we’re trying to really spread the word that we’re in a location where they can visit easily.”

Along with selling custom tees and other products, LaChelle offers virtual classes in which she teaches others how to design logos on the computer, print them out and then use a hot press to permanently transfix them onto shirts. She started teaching classes two years ago and has seen them grow in popularity during the pandemic.

Ci’Ora Williams, LaChelle’s daughter and co-owner of Inspiru, said that the conditions created by COVID-19 have helped their business grow as more people have picked up hobbies.

“I think it enhanced it because a lot of people were at home and they wanted to become more crafty,” Williams said.

Burgeoning T-shirt designers can stop in Inspiru to pick up any materials they might need to create their own custom tees at home, LaChelle said.

With Christmas approaching, the mother and daughter duo have found themselves spending long hours together in the store, working to complete bulk orders for the holidays. Despite the hefty workload, Williams said that she looks forward to coming into work everyday.

Along with designing and printing custom T-shirts herself, LaChelle Hines has started teaching others how to create specialty tees. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

“It’s arts and crafts everyday,” said Williams, who left her full-time job to work at Inspiru. “It’s fun working with my mom and just being able to create.”

The creative side is what LaChelle loves too. She enjoys crafting a logo or design from scratch and turning it into a physical product. 

Before making custom tees, LaChelle crafted homemade jewelry. Designing T-shirts, she said, provides the same creative outlet without some of the frustrations. She hopes that Inspiru gives that feeling to others.

“I want to inspire people to be creative, to live life to the fullest,” LaChelle said. “Whatever you can think of that’s inspiring to somebody, that’s what (Inspiru) is.”

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