By Cali Carpenter, Class of 2017
Starting out as a computer science major, switching to business, then ending with theology, Ian Williams (’07) was no stranger to experiencing all that campus had to offer. As a student, he was involved in every activity that he could participate in—two summer travel groups, multiple music ensembles, student government association, student senate, you name it, Williams probably had a hand in it from 2002-2007.
“I really enjoyed having Williams in my courses,” said Dr. Jay Akkerman, professor of Pastoral Theology. “As an undergrad, he was very inquisitive, with a wry eagerness to delve deeper into course content. Some might have seen this as a streak of rebelliousness, but Ian also had an innate sense of grounding that seemed to make room for exploration and discovery. One made room for the other.”
Similar to his NNU experience, Williams has made multiple career moves in the past 12 years—pivotal choices that have written his life story. Right after graduation, he served as a youth pastor in Eagle Point, Oregon, then stepped into the restaurant business as a waiter for a couple of years, and eventually returned to pastoring youth in Albany, Oregon.
During his time in Oregon, he was involved in Young Life, a nationwide Christian organization that helps young people grow in their faith through friendship and influence from caring leaders. One day, the club leader approached Williams and told him that their organization had a screen printing press if he ever wanted to use it. A few months later, a parent in the church approached Williams about making shirts for the youth group kids, and a lightbulb came on.
“I can help the church, and I can make money. This is perfect,” he said to himself. “So I started learning the craft.”
He spent countless hours teaching himself how to screen print professionally. He was able to produce shirts for the youth group at a lower cost than the competition in town while also making a profit for himself, and everyone was happy and excited about the product.
In 2009, Williams’ wife Sarah was let go from her job as a marketing executive, so he decided to market himself and his new screen printing skill to supplement income for his family. Williams picked up a big account and suddenly had to figure out a way to produce a large number of shirts.
Instead of continuing to use Young Life’s screen printing press, he decided it was time to acquire his own. “We went ahead and made the initial investment of buying a press and put it in our garage. We cranked shirts out of the garage for a good year and a half, and it started turning a profit. We were actually able to start a viable company,” he said.
Williams found that this new business venture was fueling his creative side while also making money and helping people— everything he could have hoped for.
In 2010, Ian and Sarah headed from Oregon to the small mountain town of McCall, Idaho to attend his brother’s wedding. While there, they noticed a commercial print shop for sale, which was one of only two in town. Although purchasing a print shop in a different state seemed far-fetched, they decided to at least take a look.
“We were in this sort of middle zone where we could do whatever we want, which is a really rare moment in your life,” he said.
Right after the wedding, they went to look at the space and, against all preconceived notions, decided that it had potential to become a viable business. The building also had extra room for their screen printing press, which sealed the deal. Moving to a different state and purchasing a new business made it a big year for the couple.
Their newly acquired space became a hybrid of two businesses under one roof: a commercial print shop and a screen printing and design business. It wasn’t long before the print shop building became too small for their needs. Williams dreamed of a building that had never been built in McCall, so he decided that he would have to put in the work himself. It took four years to get everything planned and executed exactly how he wanted, but he made it happen. In 2017, his businesses moved into a brand new million dollar building: a space designed and made exactly for their needs.
The current space is home to three businesses, all owned and managed by Williams and his wife: United Graphic Design, LLC, which was started by Williams in 2004; The Printshop McCall, the commercial print shop that they took over in 2010 (and which originally landed them in McCall); and The Idaho Shirt Company, Williams’ most recent business venture and the brand that ties all of his other businesses together. It is a culmination of his years of hard work in one premium retail line.
“The Idaho Shirt Company takes everything we can do as a print shop as well as a screen printing and design company and puts it as a trophy and says here is our best stuff,” Williams said.
He is working tirelessly to ensure that Idaho Shirt Company is the absolute best it can be, from eco-friendly chemicals, processes and inks, to purchasing the most sustainable and advanced screen printing press in the world. All of these actions are resulting in a better quality shirt that’s also better for the environment.
Williams has also made it a priority to give back. For every shirt that is sold, five meals are donated to the Idaho Foodbank. He also recently launched the Idaho Shirt Helpline which donates a significant amount of funds to different causes throughout the year. Right now, $7 from every shirt purchased is donated to the American Cancer Society.
“Let’s give as much as we can, but let’s generate a really sustainable, profitable business and help a bunch of people at the same time,” Williams said, referring to his business model. “Trying to help others is at the core of everything we do, and why we donate. I’ve felt that the ministry aspect of my life has transitioned from my church to my business and I take care of people as much as I can through the company.”
Williams thrives on helping others succeed, and that’s all he really wants at the end of the day. “Money is secondary, people are first,” he said.
Despite all of the transitions he has gone through over the past two decades, one thing has remained constant—the lasting impact NNU and its people have had on his life. During college, he met genuine people who cared about him authentically and with love. He interacted with students and professors who lived out their faith instead of just talking about it, and he experienced a tight-knit community that was there to catch him when he fell. After all these years, that is what keeps him coming back with the desire to add value to the school.
“I want to be part of the network and see it thrive and not be a taker but a giver,” he said.
Williams has wanted to find a way to give back to NNU in a unique way, and that dream has finally become a reality. The Idaho Shirt Company recently became NNU’s first ever private retail brand partner.
“It’s a very proud moment for me to be able to say that my university is using me and our company that I built from my garage as an alum, and we’re now partnering as equals,” Williams said. This partnership is important for Williams and his company, and it’s also important for his family line. He is a fifth-generation graduate and hopes that someday his son Oakley can experience the powerful NNU community that has been part of his family history since 1913.
Williams’ hope is that this new partnership will create something much bigger than both entities could do on their own, with the goal of leaving an impact that will last for generations to come.
“I want to see NNU succeed because the university has helped me so much in my career and has allowed me to thrive as a business owner and an entrepreneur,” Williams said. “I want to pass that torch forward and do as much as I can in that world.”
See Williams in action at nnu.edu/ian. See more of Williams' designs at idahoshirts.com