9 Mar 2023


by Kurtis Hammer


We all remember where we were a little over three years ago, when we heard the news that all our gigs had been cancelled and almost all of our work had dried up. Some of us went out of the industry to find a different job as an ‘essential worker’, others hung around and took what little work was left. Some of us got JobKeeper and were lucky enough to live off savings until it all blew over. A handful of people even retired.

A few people were brave enough to have a crack at starting a business. Statistics will tell us that nine out of every 10 businesses will fail in their first year, a fairly harrowing figure on its own. Compounded with the lockdowns and uncertainty, early 2020 did not seem like the most opportune time to be starting a business.


Karen Skillen started out in the industry as a followspot operator in 2007. Her first gig was Lionel Richie. Having worked in the industry almost exclusively up until Covid hit, she, like the rest of us, was out of work.

In response, she decided to create her own job. She had a few T-shirts printed to sell online, which proved to be an instant success. After spending a few months reading and researching printers (Covid left many of us with spare hours) she spent up and started a T-shirt printing business in a 3m x 2.8m storage unit in Kennards at Moore Park. Kolour by Kaz was born.

Although a majority of the entertainment industry was shut down, Karen’s first T-shirt printing contract was with Marvel for the crew shirts on the film set of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Printing for this began on the day the first printer was installed. A slew of other contracts for movie crew T-shirts would follow and to date have included Thor, Mad Max, and Planet of the Apes.


Within a month the storage unit had been outgrown and a bigger premises was subsequently sought out and rented. It was a shopfront store on Liverpool Street in Darlinghurst, Sydney. This meant public access and allowed people to walk in off the street. The shop would remain there for about two years. This has also been outgrown by the business and late last year, the move was made to Oxford Street.

Since moving to Oxford Street, business has improved immensely yet again. This is due in part to the location which has provided better street frontage, exposure, visibility and an increase in foot traffic. Business has continued to improve, mainly through word of mouth. As many purchases are made on the spot by passers-by, location and visibility have proven to be key.

To go along with moving to a more desirable location, printing equipment has been upgraded too. The upgrades have more than doubled printing capacity. At this stage, the store currently owns Sublimation, DTG and DTF printers, which covers an extensive range of printing.

Sublimation printing (dye sublimation) is a process that first prints text or images onto special transfer paper, then transfers that from the paper to another material (typically polyester or a polyester mix). The ink is then heated until it disintegrates (sublimates) into the fabric.

DTG Printing (Direct-to-Garment printing), also known as digital printing, has only been around for about 20 years. In that short amount of time, however, this printing technique has revolutionised the fashion world in ways that nobody expected.

DTF Printing (Direct-to-Film) allows you to print a design on a film and transfer it directly to the intended surface, such as fabric. The key reason why DTF is gaining prominence is the freedom it gives you to choose almost any surface for printing.

These days Karen runs the shop 9-5 and will take on extra followspot work outside of hours. She now employs three people on a casual basis. Kolour by Kaz specialises in custom prints, with no minimum print requirement. Single custom prints, where you bring in your own design, can be done while you wait. Nowadays, the shop can print on just about anything, including and not limited to: T-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, cushion covers, pillowcases, tea towels, drink bottles, name tags, Xmas decorations, bags and coasters.

“Having the entertainment Industry background has been extremely helpful with my business right from the start, and getting movie contracts is a huge bonus,” says Karen. “I’ve also done print jobs for bands and corporate events and the support has been amazing from industry colleagues.”

While still very active in the industry, Karen has no plans on scaling back or slowing down Kolour By Kaz. The business has grown immensely and continues to do so. The future looks bright and busy, she has recently landed a tender to supply merchandise for Sydney World Pride.


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