Real life lessons

From left, students Katherine Fischer, Chloe Taton and Sarah Goodman watch as Cliff Bjork trims  - Jenny Manning / Whidbey News-Times
From left, students Katherine Fischer, Chloe Taton and Sarah Goodman watch as Cliff Bjork trims
— image credit: Jenny Manning / Whidbey News-Times

A field trip to the Interstate Label Company turned into a multifaceted entrepreneurial exercise for a dozen “Homeschoolers on Whidbey” students.

“It’s more than just making labels,” parent Marjorie Lauritzen said, adding that the students, ages 10 through 15, learned about marketing, advertising, finances, economics, trends in communications and how to work within a budget.

“This has broadened the kids’ understanding of what’s happening in the world,” she said.

Cliff Bjork, owner of the Freeland-based Interstate Label Company, enjoys nothing more than the opportunity to share his craft.

“It’s a fun job. I’ve been doing it for 23 years and I love it,” he said of the printing business, which has changed in leaps and bounds over the last two decades as a result of the digital revolution, from the equipment, to the process, to the turn around time.

“When I first started here, turn around was three to four weeks; now our turn around is three to four days.”

Some of the good-old standby equipment is still in use, he said, including a 1960s-era, knot-tying machine that can tie 100 knots a minute on hang-tags.

But some things don’t change when it comes to the inks, machinery and care used in creation of the finished product.

“It’s a craft. The longer you’ve been doing it, the better you are at your craft,” he told the students, in a “practice makes perfect” message, tailored to the printing industry.

The label-printing craft is more than an art form, it’s a mathematical wonder of fractions and precision so the finished product turns out just right.

Bjork walked the students through the process of label creation over their three-part field trip. During the students’ first meeting with Bjork, he covered basic design, and how to work within a budget, asking the students to consider the purpose and use of the label and if they wanted to produce the most labels possible, or the highest-quality product with their “budget.”

The students created their own designs, then voted on five to send to Bjork’s graphic design team. One week later, he returned to the class with five prototype labels for a second vote, narrowing the field to one.

Carolyn McFaul’s design, which read “100 percent homeschooled, 100 percent smart,” garnered the most votes among the students and, from there, the team tweaked the design to their liking.

Later that week, Bjork shut down his Freeland factory at 11 a.m., reserving the rest of the day for the students.

The tour started with a face-to-face meeting with Bjork’s design team, who transformed the student’s sketches into graphic designs, followed by a lesson on the equipment Bjork uses to turn the digital file image of the artists’ design into a black and white negative. The design then goes through a wash process, he explained, to make the rubber stamp that’s used in the printing press.

After a quick bite to eat in the company lunchroom, Bjork led the students into the press room to try their hand at the knot-tying machine, pour ink and partake in the label printing process.

By the end of the day, each kid left with 100 labels, knowing that they partook in the entire process.

For more information about Homeschoolers on Whidbey, visit

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