By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Athens native Jerome Malone along with his wife Tiffany are 40-something professionals who were well-educated, solidly stable in their careers, serving in the full-time ministry, and the parents of two children. Their daughter, Janaya is a senior at Athens High School. Their son, Jerome Jr. is turning 13 this week. In August they took a bold step and opened a brick-and-mortar screen-printing and embroidery business on Highway 31, near Family Security Credit Union. It has the interesting name of Splash of Ink. For 12 years Jerome worked at the Target Distribution Center in Madison, and has a degree from Athens State University in Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Tiffany is a regional Human Resources Director for a large corporation, and had a “side hustle” where she made a few T-shirts here and there. Jerome largely ignored her small business and figured he’d build a secure future for his family at Target. Then, a desire to help a young man who was struggling with cancer began to change everything.
Javan Bailey was a member of the Malone’s church, and a fundraiser for his medical expenses incurred during his battle with cancer included the production of 500 custom-designed T-shirts, which Jerome and Tiffany agreed to create. That began the shift in Jerome and Tiffany’s thinking that perhaps this could become a new full-time career, and after a life-changing sermon which was preached in his church, Jerome put in his notice at Target in the fall of 2017. He first produced custom T-shirts largely from his home office, and business began to build. Now they are part of fellowship in Athens that has a huge heart for bringing reconciliation as well as teaching life skills, especially to younger members of the community.
Jerome played a video for me of the song that Javan wrote celebrating being cancer-free, and it brought me to tears. Javan’s line of custom T-shirts, which are displayed at Splash of Ink, is called “11 PM.” The other side of the shirt says, “It’s dark out there.” The wording of the shirts and the song are designed to remind people that it may be dark out in society or internally where there can be intense battles, but for people of faith, shining your light is not optional.
The Splash of Ink storefront, which is located at 200 US Hwy 31 in Athens, has the feeling of being an exclusive boutique. “People come in here with maybe just a concept, and together we go to the computer, design their shirt, and then produce it for them. We have a 12-14 day turnaround,” Jerome told me. The shop sports a round glass table and chairs with fresh flowers, and examples of some of the lines of custom shirts hanging from the wall. On the other wall are framed shirts that have been a part of Chili Challenge and other local events. In addition, there is a display of small shirts in every color from which to choose. They also do a brisk business with their online store, which can be found at www.splashofinkscreenprinting.com/the-store.
In addition to screen-ink, Splash of Ink produces T-shirts that have embroidered messages rather than ink ones. One of my favorites is elegant and simple, and on the front it says, “Pick flowers, not fights.” By contrast, there is a playful one that says, “Athens vs Everybody.” There are many shirts of faith, and Jerome helps local artists promote their custom lines. One is called “Exit 351,” named after the Athens exit off of I-65. Another line is called “Happy Threads,” which is owned by Elizabeth McClary of McClary Ford. The “Pick flowers, not fights” shirt is produced by Glory Garden. “They always used flowers as their inspiration,” said Jerome.
Another young man by the name of Charles Smith has a line called “Durgang,” and he is a local coach. The “Dur” is the first syllable of “Durwin,” which is his middle name, and the “gang” is for the kids he coaches. The message for this particular line is that this “gang” is designed to keep kids out of gangs that can harm them. In addition, Jerome Jr. is learning entrepreneurial skills from his father, and at the age of 13 has launched “J Toni,” his own brand of custom shirts.
I asked Jerome why, seeing as I have choices in the Athens-Limestone area for both custom screen-ink and embroidered shirts, I should choose Splash of Ink. He replied with confidence, “We are a one-stop shop, we stand behind the excellence of our work, and quality is first, guaranteed.” If that is what you are looking for when it comes to all your T-shirt needs, then remember this: A Splash Of Ink promises catching design, excellence guaranteed, on time every time.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner