Dice T-Shirts 1979 to 1989
By Nancy Sigafoos (aka Siggy)
The story of Dice T-Shirts begins in 1977 Ohio, but it is tied to Olympia. I had returned to my midwestern hometown to help out during a family health crisis, and I was working a mind numbing job in my father’s plumbing supply warehouse. I often dreamed of Mount Rainier, and one morning my father saw how depressed I was. He gave me some seed money to do something I’d always wanted to do. I drove to Akron to an arts supply store and bought my first silkscreen and squeegee.
The first shirts I printed simply said TROUT which is in the vocabulary of Rainbow regulars. Anyone who was in that community will understand. In essence, a “trout” or someone who is “troutin’ it” is shirking their responsibility in lieu of a more pleasurable option. These first shirts were shipped to Olympia, and worn by the Evergreen women’s basketball team.
I returned to Olympia in 1979, and for four years I printed t-shirts as what’s now called a “side hustle.” More and more people sought me out to print shirts, and in 1983, I was hired to print the shirts for the March of Dimes Walk-a-thon. I didn’t have a commercial dryer at the time, so I cured the ink in my oven under the broiler. I made more on that order than I made in a full month’s salary at my janitor job at the City of Tumwater, so I quit my job and took the plunge.
My first shop was in my garage, but I moved downtown to the storefront at 210 1/2 West Fourth Avenue. It had previously been Stella Marrs’ store Girl City. I occupied that store for over a year and I never stopped finding glitter in the dust pan whenever I swept the floor. The ventilation was terrible, so I put in a range hood and wore a mask. Carl Cook took this photo from that time.
In 1984, I moved over to 114 North Capitol, a space that I occupied in one way or another until I moved away from Olympia in 2011. There are hundreds of stories I could tell about t-shirts I printed, designs that I created, and the many local artists who brought their work to me for imprinting. I sold Dice T Shirts in late 1989, after a decade of sending messages out into the community to be worn as human billboards. I like to think that many folks in Oly still have a rumpled artifact in their t-shirt drawer from the Dice/N. Sigafoos era.
If you took a clothesline long enough to hang a thousand t-shirts in a row and hung every design I printed in chronological order, you would have a history of life in Olympia in the 1980s. You’d see bands like Gila and Obrador, political actions from election campaigns to social justice movements, businesses that came and went, sports teams, non-profits, and community events. Some designs were printed by the thousands, and some images were printed on one single t-shirt as a gift. Of all these t-shirts, I think the one that has the most meaning to me is the one that I designed for the Olympia AIDS Task Force. It said Keep Your Love Alive. Those early days of the AIDS epidemic were some tough years, and I’ll always feel privileged to have been part of our community’s response to that heartbreaking and challenging time.
The great thing about running a business like Dice T-Shirts is that no one ever comes through the door to place an order when they’re feeling defeated or lukewarm about their enterprise. If you want to put something on a t-shirt, you are excited about whatever it is, and you are full of hope. I have a mental rolodex of the many customers who sat at my desk and shared their dreams with me. And finally, there are the characters in the play that took place inside those walls; the workers who helped me through the years, the downtown friends who popped in to chat, and the queer kids who came down after school and used my office like a clubhouse and support center.
I spent thirty-five years of my life in Olympia. As a young person, it was where I found my tribe, and I’m happy to be a part of the history.