The Story of VGKIDS

The story of VGKids begins in 1997, when I opened an all-vegan natural food store in the poetically unlikely Pontiac, Michigan. 17 years old and using a small inheritance set aside for college, "The Vegetarian Grocer," sold snacks and groceries in the front, distributed records and zines in the back, and hosted punk shows in the basement.

The folks that volunteered and hung out at VG became known as VG Kids. We bought www.vgkids.com as an umbrella for all of the various projects people were working on. Good-hearted enterprises including bands, record labels, book publishing, body piercing jewelry, an attempt at a Food Not Bombs chapter, and so much more. We were young, idealistic, and a little naive. Its a beautiful way to live.

In 1999, the grocery store closed due to a cash shortage, and VGKids was reborn with a strictly screen printing ethos in Ypsilanti, MI. Things started slowly, but after 2 years, with quality standards on the rise and word of mouth traveling quickly, VGKids stabilized as a viable indie business. To meet increasing demands, DIY gear was slowly replaced with special purpose, industrial screen printing equipment. The deep knowledge of the process gained from those years of "doing it ourselves" helped endlessly during the transition into a full-service merchandising company.

Up until 2006, VGKids lived primarily in the shadows of niche music scenes and internet message boards. Increasingly though, everyday folks from all types of backgrounds were included in the growing ranks of the VGKids client roster. We gradually realized that the basement of a blood plasma donation center is no place to bring the kind of clients we were attracting, so we opened a storefront and customer service office in downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan early in 2007. The added visibility paid off quickly as sales continued to rise.

Then there came an optimistic expansion, adding a 2nd production facility in California. Our own lack of foresight and the fantastic recession in 2008 were an incredible combination– the company emerged intact, but slightly bruised for the journey. We regrouped both figuratively and literally and in 2009 merged all operations to a single, state-of-the-art commercial kitchen in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Through this process we not only galvanized our team through hardship, we came across an opportunity to spin off a hub of artist studios and rehearsal spaces, SPUR Studios.

Over the years, 3 employees had risen to represent all that VGKids stands for. They were Steve Emshwiller, Aaron Bobzien, and Sean Hickey. A quiet transition was made in 2011 for this trio to share all responsibilities of managing the company. This challenge has given them the opportunity to again demonstrate their moral character, tenacity, grit and dedication to provide a superior product and customer experience.

The theme that ties all of these events together comes down to our basic moral code. We believe in doing the right thing, simply because its the right thing to do. It means our clients get treated like the friends they are, we work diligently to make our products as environmentally sound as possible, and pay an above average wage to our employees.

Its what makes VGKids more than a batch of t-shirts or a run of stickers. More than the poster for your upcoming show or a record jacket for a new project. VGKids is a collection of motivated, forward thinking people blurring the lines between employee and volunteer, hobbyist and professional, friend and family-- all of us working together for each of us to be as successful as we possibly can.

By our combined efforts, there's no doubt that we will leave a world better than the one we entered into.


James Marks
Founder, VGKids