FROM SCRATCH: A graphic artist with an unusual idea hopes it catches on

Each batch of shirts is a work of art for Charlie Vetters, who comes up with his own designs. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Charlie Vetters is a renaissance man.

Part outdoorsman, part artist, part entrepreneur — the Greenfield man has branched out into a business endeavor he hopes will make the most of his combined talents.

As a Hancock County native and outdoor adventurer, he formed his screen-printing business, Organic Robot Designs, to develop a clothing brand focusing on Indiana roots and outdoor recreation.

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Vetters said the unusual business name is based on the dichotomy of his work life as a graphic designer who spends long days in front of a computer screen and his weekend life in which he embraces the great outdoors. It also sums up the way he wants to do business, combining technology and organic designs to create products.

While his goal is to open a storefront in Greenfield, for now Vetters works in a shop at his house on a farm just south of Greenfield his family has owned since the late 1800s.

The journey that eventually made him an entrepreneur started with the recession of 2008, which disrupted his career trajectory in business management when he lost his job.

He opted to go back to school to earn a two-year degree in digital art design from the Art Institute of Indianapolis, then launched a freelance graphic design business, picking up a few screen-printers as clients.

The thrill of creating designs that were transformed into T-shirts, glassware and other products felt like a fun way to showcase his art skills.

In 2016, he started forming Organic Robot Designs as a side business, as a way to get his creative juices flowing.

“I wanted to design and create things I was excited about, rather than just shirts for soccer teams,” he said.

Vetters started his business out slowly, opening an Etsy store online, and later started selling at a couple of hometown events like the Riley Festival.

In 2018, he and his wife, Debbie, decided to take the leap and hit the fall festival circuit throughout the state. The next year, they started going to bigger shows, like the Indiana State Fair.

“We really did much better than we ever thought we would,” said Vetters, 55.

As an extrovert, he thrives on interacting with customers and getting positive feedback on his designs. For every 50 or so people who would walk by his booth and simply glance at his merchandise, perhaps one would stop and really get excited about his niche, he said.

“They were so excited to see things they don’t normally see — like the Indiana designs and outdoor recreation designs,” Vetters said.

“So often you see Indiana apparel with clipart that’s just been stuck on a shirt, but my designs are ones I’ve personally created. That really seemed to resonate with people,” he said.

Vetters had a particularly busy time at last year’s state fair. The 18-day event was a whirlwind for Vetters, who worked 12-hour days, then went home and spent two to four hours printing more products to refresh his stock.

He used the growing profits from his clothing line to supplement his income, so he could get his full-time print shop up and running.

He started a Hoosier Shirt of the Month Club, through which members can get one of his Indiana-themed shirts mailed to them each month. Vetters encourages members to wear their shirts on the first Friday of the month all year long.

Things took a turn when the coronavirus put a halt to all shows so far this year.

Vetters was all set for a big show at the state fairgrounds in mid-March when event organizers called the night before saying it was canceled. He had just invested thousands of dollars into beefing up his inventory as well as a new point-of-sale system.

As he sat at home in isolation, Vetters started brainstorming ways he could help others through Organic Robot Designs. He came up the idea to help local nonprofits and independent businesses spread the word about themselves through T-shirt fundraisers, a service he’d seen other screen-printers doing across the country.

For every group or business that hired him to print shirts for them, Vetters sold them for $20 and gave $10 back to the organization.

While he didn’t get as big of a response as he was hoping for due to social distancing restrictions, he was able to connect with a few independent Greenfield businesses like Tattoos in Time, Hometown Comics and Porter Coffee, helping them to raise several hundred dollars.

Now that the economy is starting to pick back up, Vetters hopes to start making more connections and develop his customer base.

His goal is to become known as more than just another screen printer, but as an artist who works closely with clients to create unusual products and designs.

While Vetters’ goal is to have his own shop by early 2021, preferably in a historic building in downtown Greenfield, he knows it might not happen until the end of next year.

“I enjoy working with people and I enjoy being outdoors, so this new business venture is so much more satisfying than just sitting at a computer,” said Vetters. “There’s a creative process to designing things for people — you’re creating something out of nothing — and that’s really awesome,” he said.

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Organic Robot Designs