Shirts keep on talking for three years

Three-year anniversary for Hilliers outlet sees free food and lots and lots of colour

Curtis Koel shows off some of the tie-dyed creations available at the outlet on Alberni Highway.

Curtis Koel and Bill Bokstrom decided to take a chance and give Hilliers a little bit of colour three years ago.

That gamble appears to be paying off, with multi-coloured bank notes being exchanged for their brightly-coloured T-shirts.

Their business, T-Shirts That Talk, celebrated its third anniversary on the weekend with free hot dogs, a sale and a whole lot of optimism about the future.

“My partner, who is the major shareholder in this business, is a faller and I worked in sawmills all my life and we’re both getting older and my body won’t take it any longer,” Koel said. “We are both T-shirt fanatics and we have a hard time finding cool T-shirts, so when we noticed a for-lease sign here, we thought about all the traffic heading to the west coast, so we thought we would take a chance.”

Running a retail outlet is very different from working in a sawmill, but Koel said the pair has learned on the job — and some of those lessons came both early and fortuitously.

“The place needed a little colour when we first moved in so we thought we would take a chance and order in a load of tie-dyed T-shirts,” Koel said. “We sold them all in one weekend and since then tie-dye has become 50 per cent of our business.”

Seeing that appetite, the team sited a tent outside next to Alberni Highway to display their shirts. Again, that gamble paid off.

“You can only drive past that so many times before you have to come and check us out,” Koel said. “People can come in and spend an hour browsing and checking out our shirts.”

There’s more than just swirling colour on display. Bokstrom and Koel have solicited the talents of Island screen printers to produce a huge variety of other shirts as well, many of which sport messages and images of what Koel calls an “alternative” nature.

“There are not a lot of outlets where you can find these T-shirts with alternate language on them and we have quite a selection of that off-the-wall, edgy T-shirts,” Koel said. “That has also been great for us.”

Bokstrom said they’ve had some great inspiration for their work.

“We got our inspiration from Old Nick’s Emporium on Johnston Street in Victoria,” he said. “We share exclusive designs with them and they do a lot of our printing.”

He said people can look forward to Labour Day weekend when they will have our back-to-school end of the summer Hummer Sale.

However, he added that anyone who missed their anniversary sale can bring in a copy of this article for 25 per cent savings on their favourite design.

“We are the best T-shirt shop of its kind  on the Island, if not on the planet,” Bokstrom said.

Koel and Bokstrom are confident T-Shirts That Talk will be adding a splash of vibrant colour to Vancouver Island  — and the rest of the world — for some time to come.