For Joy Revels, home is metal screen-printing presses, a shirt dryer outfitted in state magnets, tubs of ink and boxes upon boxes of T-shirts.
Revels, 53, is the owner of Dragonfly Graphics, a 27-year-old Gainesville shop specializing in screen printing T-shirts.
She’s a woman who has made T-shirts her business, but three decades ago, she had exactly one T-shirt in her wardrobe — from the band “The Cars.”
In 1986, Revels, a graduate of the Spessard L. Holland Law Center at the University of Florida, had few job prospects for legal work when she received an odd proposition.
A friend was managing a small women’s artist cooperative named Dragonfly Studios and the owners wanted to get out of it. Revels was offered the opportunity to build the then decade-old business, which already did some screen-printing, from the ground up.
“It’s kind of like that thing where you’re learning a new word and then you see it everywhere,” Revels said. “I started looking at T-shirts and they were just everywhere and I thought, ‘Why didn’t I notice this before?’”
After realizing how lucrative the business could be, Revels took over. She renamed the business Dragonfly Graphics and made its sole concentration screen-printing. The name refers to the Chinese symbol for creativity and is a nod to screen-printing’s Chinese roots.
It now produces 2,000 shirts a week for schools, businesses, events and churches, but Revels has also focused on community service. This was made most apparent by her involvement in the Terry Jones scandal of 2010.
Jones, a pastor at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, gained attention with his desire to burn copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He asked Revels to print shirts saying, “Islam is of the devil.”
Instead, the shop printed shirts with the slogan “Love, not Dove,” accompanied with a tattoo-like design of a dove in distress. Beneath the dove were lyrics from an Elvis Costello song, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding.”
Hundreds of people flooded the shop, taking more than 1,500 free shirts and leaving behind donations. Of the donations, $1,000 was given to the Relief and Assistance for Humanity by Muslim Americans (RAHMA) Mercy Clinic, which was opened by the local Muslim medical community to offer free health care to families without insurance.
“It kind of concentrates everything that Joy is about, using her medium, which is T-shirts, as a way to promote social change,” Aimee Anderson, Dragonfly’s sales and marketing director and Revels’ partner in life.
The little shop located in a 1927 historical home at 319 SW Third Ave., with its brick steps leading to the front door and green turf stage in the backyard, stands for family.
Communication is key between Revels and her seven-person staff.
“You can tell when it’s a good time to talk to her and when it’s not,” said Bussey Quackenbush, who has worked for Revels for 15 years. “She knows my quirks and I know her quirks.”
She is family, Quackenbush said.
“She’s probably my longest relationship,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve spent more time with anybody else.”
For Anderson, their personal relationship reminds her just how central Revels is to the success of Dragonfly.
“When we have a fight − because we are partners in business and in life − I’ll be like, ‘Well, I love Dragonfly Graphics, but right now, I don’t love you,’ and she’s like, ‘I am Dragonfly Graphics!’” she said. “And it’s absolutely true. This is her.”
Revels stands tall and fit in her spiked cropped hair, jeans and a Dragonfly T-shirt. She has seen fellow attorneys become pasty and fleshy from the stress of their profession. Her black quarter-size turtle tattoo on her inner left arm reminds her to slow down and to be self-contained, like a turtle shell, Revels said.
“I’m still excited about it,” she said. “I enjoy coming to my job, and I never dread coming to work or staying at work.”
When she first took over, the business was on the second floor of 19 SW Second St.
The days began at 9 a.m. and ended as late as 2 or 3 a.m. to clean the old shop, paint it, and build its credit and reputation.
Brought up in a middle-to-low class family in Tampa, Revels was used to hard work. She held a job through college and was able to pay off $19,000 in student loans by 2000.
“I have the attitude of, if you work hard, the money will come,” she said. “If I put in 60 to 80 hours a week, it’s for me. I don’t resent anybody.”
Revels moved the business to its current location in 1999 and then, commercialized and expanded the small beige house to accommodate screen-printing presses.
“It’s sort of recession proof in an odd way,” she said. “It is clothing, which is a necessity, but I think the harder times you’re in, the more people need to identify with one another.”
As to the future of Dragonfly, Revels said she doesn’t plan more than three to five years ahead.
“My belief is that anything that you build to last, you build slowly,” she said. “I’m not in a hurry about it. I just want to do it right.”