Founded in a garage by a recently divorced mother of three, Ellens Silkscreening, which celebrates four decades in business this year, has a story that could easily be a case study for the American Dream.
The business’s matriarch, Ellen Daigle, sitting in her Mission Street office, amongst a highly-skilled 15-person team of graphic artists, printers and sales reps working hard to churn out 48-5,000 unit orders for longtime customers like The Getty Museum and the LA Philharmonic, admits she never pictured this kind of success.
How could she? At the time a 15-year registered nurse with only the experience of a one-year sign painting course at Pasadena City College, in 1978 Daigle began printing shirts from home as a way to stay at home to support and raise her three daughters.
Recalling those early years, Daigle remembers with pride washing film positives with garden hoses, drying shirts at a local laundromat, pouring pool bleach in a pan and cleaning screens at a nearby car wash. Living in the Monterey Hills at the time, Daigle travelled door to door selling her services.
Her first client was Monterey Liquor Store (now known as Foremost Liquor). The order was for a dozen shirts – the outline of a woman in a champagne glass was printed in brown on yellow fabric. The store loved it and ended up selling 200 shirts.
Just five years later, with the help of Ellen’s new husband, Joe Daigle, then the art director at KRLA Radio Station, the business was printing 10,000 shirts for the Watts Summer Festival and operating on a secured contract for the 1984 Summer Games. Money made from those years paid for machines the screen-printing and embroidery business still uses today.
For her achievements as a businesswoman, Daigle has been admitted to the National Association of Women Business Owners Millennium Hall of Fame (2000), received the Women in Business award by State Assembly member Anthony Portantino, State Senator Carol Liu, and Assembly member Paul Krekorian, and been honored with the Woman of the Year award in 2002 from Adam Schiff, who called Daigle “a true inspiration for all those who strive for the American Dream.”
Ellens is proud to have compiled a loyal group of clients, a group that includes cultural institutions such as The Natural History Museum, the Getty Museum, the Hollywood Bowl and institutions of higher learning such as Occidental College, Caltech, Cal State LA and the Art Center College of Design. Approximately 90 percent of the business’s clients are repeat customers, Daigle says.
Ellens has accumulated a number of accolades over the years including the “Press Magazine National Industry Award for Ethics & Excellence” in 1995. It was also named one of the top 100 woman-owned businesses in Los Angeles County by the LA Business Journal in 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2007.
Those accolades, however, are not as important to Ellen and Joe as their commitment to their longtime team of employees. For their hardworking and skilled artisans, the company provides vacations, holidays, and Kaiser Medical benefits. It also offers a scholarship fund for all employees whose children go to college, as well as a summer camp scholarship fund.
Of the long term employees, some of whom have first generation families, six of their children have become either Valedictorians of their classes or received full scholarships to distinguished colleges. Today, those kids are beginning careers as engineers, teachers and scientists.
Daigle has also made innumerable contributions to the South Pasadena community as a member of City commissions, a founder of political organizations and a champion of local arts and culture. In 1978, she started SPRIG, South Pasadena for Responsible and Intelligent Growth with Joanne knuckles, Lisa Pendelton, Peter Tripodis and Martee Campbell. With a board of eight members the group was able to change the face of South Pasadena, as Daigle puts it, campaigning for preservationists Dick Richards and Harry Knapp to be elected to the City Council.
Daigle is also one of the founding members of Women in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA), a women’s political group in South Pasadena.
One of Daigle’s most important stints as a volunteer commissioner was her time on the Parks Commission from 1997-2001. Under her leadership as Chair, the commission was able to lobby and bring in experts to retain the Recreation program, which was going to be contracted out to the City of Pasadena. In fact, Daigle received the Community Service Award from California Parks commission for work in saving South Pasadena’s Recreation Department.
She has served in her time as a member of Women at Work, the Girl Scouts Board, the South Pasadena Youth Commission, the South Pasadena Unified School District Oversite Commission, and the Community Redevelopment Commission twice. She is currently serving on the Public Safety Commission for a second term, her second as chair.