Jacob Bennett’s tiny printing empire all started at a small kitchen table. He now operates entirely out of his garage, which is also miniscule (approximately 225 square feet), and has no plans of relocating or getting a storefront.
Through the Internet and use of social media, he has orders coming in from all around the country, usually places known for the outdoors, such as Colorado, Northern California, Appalachia and overseas.
He wants to remain a small, one man operation for the time being. He believes people appreciate how he has his fingerprints on everything at his business, Agenda Trading Company.
“When you’re doing business with Agenda you’re doing business with me,” Bennett said. “I check every email. I print every shirt. That makes me super accountable. I can’t pass the buck if something gets messed up. People like that. They see the face behind it.”
Jacob Bennett wants to encourage others to go outside once a while, so much so that he started a printmaking business predicated upon that concept.
“We spend so much time fighting nature when we’re supposed to be living with it,” he said.
But really, the idea for his business was growing long before he sat down at that kitchen table. When he was around 8 years old, he visited two cousins in New Mexico who never left their bedroom the entire time he was there. His parents saw this and banned video game consoles from their house. The experience stuck with him, and he still doesn’t play video games.
Instead, the Denham Springs native said he and his family spent much of their time outside, often going camping. He was in Boy Scouts and eventually achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
He hopes his T-shirt company encourages people to get outdoors and off the couch.
“The stress of the modern world gets to you. You go out into the woods and it calms your nerves. I want to promote people to go back outside.”
Bennett recently quit his job to go full-time with Agenda. He started in his kitchen five years ago with a table-top press, making one T-shirt at a time, but now has a machine with four printing stations and up to six colors. The company name, the 29-year-old said, came from when he was kicking around ideas with his wife and she asked him, “Well what’s your agenda?” and the name stuck.
Bennett’s designs are often inspired by his experiences and personal struggles. He put his dog’s face on the front of one shirt. Another design shows a skeleton behind the wheel that says “Goin’ nowhere fast,” an idea that came from a particularly difficult time in his life.
“I was slammed busy,” he said. “I was mile a minute, but didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. I couldn’t see the bigger picture. I was so stuck in that moment and getting down and so stressed out.”
Bennett said he’s always been into drawing comics, a talent that serves him well, as most of his designs start with ink and paper.
“I grew up skateboarding and listening to punk rock and I put that in with it—that wild, out there stuff.”
Bennett has received feedback from customers that his products are different than other outdoor brands. His style has some edge, often employing dark humor and a dose of cynicism. He goes for more of a broader appeal rather than focusing on more locally-themed products, a market he feels is saturated.
“I make stuff I would want to wear,” he said. “I’m not trying to appease anybody. I’m doing what I want to do and the authenticity of that rings true to people.”
Bennett also does custom screen-printing under the name Agenda Printworks, most often for schools, churches, construction companies and several local bands.
Bennett’s work can be found at local art shows and events, and some of his products are on shelves at Bricks n’ Bombs on Government Street. He doesn’t do any advertising—it’s all word of mouth and through the use of social media. He does shirts, stickers, patches, posters, and koozies. However, he said he has plans to venture outside of apparel into useful tools, collaborating with other artists to create new products, and wants to add articles and videos to his website, intended to educate people about the outdoors.
Bennett said he understands how life can get in the way sometimes, but we all need to make time to get outside, even if it’s in our own backyard. He took his own advice recently and built a shed out back from reclaimed wood, even though he said he’s no carpenter.
“If you want something bad enough you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
His advice for anyone thinking of starting a business?
“Do it. It’s stressful. It’s the best and worst decision I’ve made. It’s going to suck up a lot of your money. But it builds character and confidence for one. It builds freedom in your life to be your own boss and do what you want to do. You just have to start somewhere.”