Meet the Maker of Salt & Pine Co.
Amanda Dunigan loves taking road trips around Maine, soaking in the beauty of tall red spruce and white pine trees. She relished driving down coastal highways and scenic byways with her motorcycle, admiring the changing colors of fall, her favorite season. Even though she sold her bike a few years ago, Amanda still finds inspiration in her state’s landscape.
It’s why the traditional, nine-to-five professions made Amanda miserable. Cooped up in a drabby office at a bank for 10 years made her feel antsy, itching to do something more.
“I tried a few different nine to five jobs,” Amanda said. “I’m such a creative person that I just couldn’t sit at a desk all day. I needed more.”
Recognizing that she wasn’t happy, Amanda decided to move her life in a new direction. She quit her bank position and started bartending. While bartending got her on her feet, moving and interacting with all kinds of people, Amanda still felt an itch. Creativity bubbled inside of her. She started to explore and search for the best way to unleash her ingenuity.
Amanda tried photography and painting. She even became a licensed esthetician and did makeup for brides. While she enjoyed each of these creative endeavors, none of them were quite right. They felt like hobbies, not professions.
The shirt that started it all.
Something happened on St. Patrick’s Day in 2019. The bar she worked at wanted shirts for the holiday. Remembering she had a Cricut, a vinyl cutting machine, sitting in her closet, Amanda offered to make the shirts. Decorating those shirts lit a spark inside of her.
“It just clicked,” Amanda said.
Salt & Pine Co. was born.
Photo by Amanda Dunigan.
Before Amanda discovered decorating shirts was her calling, she dabbled in woodworking. When researching how to make furniture, she found Lizzy of The House of Timber. Lizzy creates wooden home decor and shares how others can woodwork too. The two became close friends quickly. When Lizzy learned that Amanda had started a garment decorating business, she asked her to make some shirts for The House of Timber. Their collaboration was a hit in the woodworking community.
“After that, I had the whole woodworking community that wanted shirts too,” Amanda said. “Initially, I was not doing bulk. I was listing their shirts on my Etsy and it became too much.”
Overwhelmed may be an understatement. Photo by Amanda Dunigan.
She had to put a limit on orders, no more than 25, to keep up with the orders she was receiving. Cutting vinyl, weeding it, and heat pressing took a lot of time. More clients knocked on her door as they noticed all the tags, stories, and positive reviews people posted on Instagram about Salt & Pine Co.
“People seem to love, and I don’t know why, the relationship that Lizzy and I have,” Amanda said. “They trust her, so that gives me a whole other community because she’ll post shirts that I’ve made for her.”
All the craziness and busyness was worth it. When the coronavirus came and closed down all bars, Amanda chose not to return to the bar and made Salt & Pine Co. her full-time job.
“It’s really cool to have found a craft that is successful,” Amanda said. “It’s working for me and I can call it my own.”
Photo by Amanda Dunigan.
THE GROWING PAINS
Four months into the new venture, Amanda learned the hard way that it was time to learn how to screen print. Customers were contacting her about their prints peeling. No matter what she did, she kept receiving messages about peeling shirts.
“It was gut-wrenching every time I got another message saying that the shirt peeled,” Amanda said.
Between the peeling shirts and the outrageous amount of time it took to decorate with heat vinyl transfer (HTV), Amanda knew it was time to start screen printing. The durability of screen printing ink alone was going to save her in the long run.
“With HTV and the peeling, essentially the shirt is ruined. You spent that money but you can’t wear the shirt,” Amanda said. “With screen printing, there’s more trust and leeway. Even if the ink wears, they can still wear it.”
Amanda’s screen printing beginning was the very definition of do-it-yourself. She went to Walmart and purchased canvases to which she removed the canvas and used the wooden frames to make her own screens.
“When I dabbled into screen printing, I was like, ‘This one screen is going to get me through 40 shirts,’” Amanda said. “It literally cut my time way down, which is what I needed.”
At first, she manually lifted the screens off the shirts, which caused a lot of issues like bleeding. Continuing on the DIY train, Amanda built her own press. That’s right; she put her woodworking skills to work and constructed a press out of 2x4s.
The press Amanda built.
LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT’S IN AMANDA’S SHOP
Her crafted press helped solve some of the issues she was experiencing, but the moment came where Amanda knew she needed a sturdier press to keep up with the volume of orders. Now, she prints on a Riley Hopkins 150 1x1 Press.
"I have been looking for a reputable press for some time now to not only use myself, but to suggest to others that are diving into the process as well!" Amanda said. "It was incredibly easy to put together, takes up much less space, and has truly helped me become even more efficient."
When she switched into screen printing, she continued using her heat gun and heat press to cure garments. It worked, for the most part. Ready to grow, Amanda got the RyoFlash Dryer, which has helped her speed up her production as well.
"A heat gun throws heat, but it's not consistent, which in turn takes up more time in between. I simply cut my time from 10-15 seconds flash curing, down to 3-5 seconds. I can add layers quicker for a more opaque look, or just flash prior to help reach full cure with my heat press. My main intention was to always start small, learn, then upgrade. But I've realized that just with these few inexpensive essentials, I can run an even more successful business."
Photo by Life Unframed Photography.
THE DAY IN THE LIFE
Amanda is not a morning person. She’s usually ready to begin her day around 11:00 AM or noon. Once she’s full of avocado toast, she heads up to a spare bedroom that she had transformed into a print shop and gets working on orders.
Coming from the creative community, Amanda mainly prints for other creative businesses that need merchandise. Her largest clientele is woodworkers, but she also prints for resin artists, calligraphers, and other crafty, small businesses.
Not only does she print for others, she also creates her own merchandise. Amanda has a full line of clean, minimalistic, edgy apparel like sweatshirts with the Salt & Pine Co. logo; punchy shirts that say, “Salty Lil Bitch”; garments that speak to the crafting community; and a collection of Maine-centric prints. Making her own printed garments is a challenge that excites her.
“I try to go with what seems popular and put my own twist on it,” Amanda said.
Product image from Salt & Pine Co.'s website.
Her day is full of printing, packaging, and responding to current and potential customers. At the earliest, her day ends at 9:00 PM, but it’s usually around 11:00 PM or midnight when she calls it a day. It’s one of the aspects of working an at-home business that Amanda struggles with.
“I’m the type of person who feels guilty if I’m not working,” Amanda said. “It’s hard for me to take a day off. Even when I walk out of my office and I’m sitting on my couch, I’m answering DMs, which is still work.”
She’s trying to be more disciplined. It’s easier some days, like on Sundays when football is on (Amanda is a Patriots fan). She’s excited for the holiday season to come so she can watch all the cheesy Hallmark movies.
The cover of Amanda's ebook on screen printing.
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
As Amanda’s business grew, so did the amount of screen printing questions. Many wanted to know how they could screen print, where they could get blanks, screen preparation, and more. Wanting to help others find their niche, Amanda wrote an ebook called, “You Got This | Screen Printing 101 with Mandi,” and shared all her techniques, inside tips, and processes. The ebook was a huge success, selling more than 300 copies and counting. Amanda also created a private Facebook group for individuals who bought the ebook so they could have a space to ask more questions.
“It’s honestly my favorite part,” Amanda said. “There are a few accounts that are getting up there in followers. I find them because they share me on their site saying, ‘I bought her ebook and now I am where I am.’ I’m just like, ‘Whoah, that’s crazy,’ it’s definitely a really cool part.”
Amanda hopes to launch a YouTube channel to further help educating others about screen printing. If others ask her for advice, Amanda tells them to just do it. Start screen printing. Experiment. Collaborate with others. Just make sure it’s something you truly love.
“Making sure that what you’re doing is going to be something that you’re passionate about and that you’re going to stick with it and be consistent so people gain that trust in you and want to follow you,” Amanda said.
Photo taken by Life Unframed Photography.
Amanda doesn't need a big, grand print shop. If the stars aligned, she would love to have a house with a garage where she could set up her shop. A loft would exist above the garage where local customers could pick up their orders and see some of her own merchandise.
“That’s really it,” Amanda said. “I don’t want a big print shop. I really want to keep the personal and handmade aspect of it.”
For now, Amanda will keep creating and maintaining relationships with others in the maker community. If she can will herself to step away from printing, she likes to hang out with her neighbor, spend time with her 12-year-old dog named Homer, or seek adventures around the state that inspired the name of her business.
When she's able to grab dinner and drinks with old and new friends, Amanda isn't afraid of the typical, get-to-know-you question about one's career.
“I used to be uncomfortable answering the question, what do you do for a living?” Amanda said. “I realize I’m becoming more and more comfortable with answering that question because of what I’ve built for myself. It’s something I’m proud of and still can’t believe where it’s at.”
Photo taken by Life Unframed Photography.