Donna Brin is a modern pioneer. She says she approaches business as she does life: with purpose and empowerment. And there’s no denying that Brin’s success in life backs just that.
As the owner of small business bFIVE40 in Little River, Brin has revolutionized the custom printing industry, while reinventing the staffing process along the way as well.
The large-format printer and fabricator specializes in using recycled fibers and fabrics in their line of products, which is mostly apparel items, relying on local manufacturers for the majority of the materials.
“We produce custom apparel, work uniforms, and we also do a lot with youth sports uniforms,” says Brin. “Plus, printed signage, branded polos, promotional tees and hooded sweatshirts for our corporate customers.”
She opened the bFIVE40 manufacturing facility here in 2018, but Brin’s entrepreneurial career began before that, in 2014 in her native New York. The company began producing a pop-up inflatable toy, like Bozo, the clown punching bag that bounces back again. But they called theirs Bonk Fit and made it using biodegradable vinyl and stretch fabric that could be custom printed.
“We started off with animal prints for the children’s toy and we went to a conference and sold out of like 500 units in three days’ time, so we knew we had something there,” says Brin. “And that was the beginning of the company.”
The evolution of bFIVE40, she adds, moved quickly from that starting point, as they started getting calls for promotional products from companies asking if they could custom brand it and sell it to their clients for use at trade shows. From there, they had the idea to start a gag gift line, where people could upload photos and custom graphics for global brands, like 20th Century Fox, Captain Morgan, and Walmart. And they haven’t slowed down since then.
“At that point, we were subcontracting out all the print cuts,” says Brin, “because I was just literally focused on sales and building a business.”
The meaning behind the bFIVE40 name is synchronized with the directions, layers and movement Brin’s business has taken on in a short amount of time. There are 360 degrees in a circular flat shape, and at 540 degrees, an object breaks the plane and becomes multidimensional. Which is the company’s mission: to help modern brands “bFIVE40.”
Today, bFIVE40 is partnered with Unifi, the world’s leading supplier of recycled fibers based in Greensboro, N.C., to give corporations sustainable product alternatives, such as specialty textiles, including REPREVE recycled polyester, stretch blends, non-woven, cling films and more.
“Through the relationship that we have with Unifi, they sell the fibers to local fabric mills and we purchase the knits from the mills with the recycled fibers,” says Brin. “And then Unifi provides us with certified reporting that can actually quantify the ecological impact on the purchases that we made from that fabric, which we then can pass that along to the customer. We are able to break down the number of bottles diverted from landfill and the associated reduction in greenhouse gases, water consumption and energy consumption in choosing recycled over virgin fabrics.”
The team at bFIVE40 works together to offer their growing number of clients cutting-edge dye sublimation, latex printing technology, and a full-service sewing process. It’s a team that Brin has diligently, carefully built through Vocational Rehabilitation to hire people with disabilities. She recognizes the importance of hiring and supporting people who do good, regardless of gender, race, and disability.
“We try to be a really great influence on the importance of diversity and inclusion,” she says. “For us, sewing naturally lends itself to a female-focused type of skill set, so it was a natural progression to build out the team and to make sure that diversity was a big part of it… I wanted to build a specific type of team, a team that would really represent the community.”
Brin also built a paid apprenticeship program through Horry Georgetown Technical College and Apprenticeship Carolina, which expanded their staff last year from 4 employees to 20.
“We couldn’t keep up with the demand, and hiring people that were really passionate about learning a trade and being part of our team was critical to our success,” she says. “Our two lead seamstresses train people that we bring in that don’t have any sewing experience for a pay-to-train opportunity. We got flooded with resumes and I wanted to make sure that we built an inclusive and diverse team as part of our sewing initiative. I feel very blessed.”
Brin and family moved from Brooklyn, New York, to South Carolina in 2014 to be closer to her father-in-law, after her mother-in-law passed away from stage four cancer.
“We came down to take over the house to help my father-in-law out,” she says. “Our plan was to continue moving out west after the summer. And we just never left.”
She worked on Wall Street as a trader for 12 years in the energy commodity industry until the mortgage meltdown in 2008. Brin says that’s when she left that line of work, got married, had two kids and needed to figure out what she was going to do. Fast-forward 10 years… and it’s safe to say she’s found it.
The company even caught the attention of Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame and his mikeroweWORKS Foundation, for which bFIVE40 made custom punching bags as gifts in 2019. At the height of the pandemic, bFIVE40 created branded face coverings and gaiters to raise money for the foundation, which focuses on spreading awareness of the opportunities in the trades industry helping to close the skills gap. They raised more than $250,000 for the charity and the news landed Brin a spot on a “Fox & Friends” segment with Rowe.
“So that was kind of fun,” she says. “The moon and stars aligned… He’s a very impressive and supportive individual. At the end of the day, it’s all about the community, and the support from the community has been so incredible.”
While they continue to work with Rowe, the next big door of opportunity that will open for bFIVE40 soon is a new partnership with the Dustin Johnson Golf School at TPC in Murrells Inlet. They’re launching a website for their golf shop, which will feature an inventory of youth and adult T-shirts, hats, hoodies, koozies and more.
“We’re really pumped to be working with them,” says Brin. “The really important thing is making sure that the people in the community here know that we’re here. That’s one of the biggest battles because people just really don’t know that we’re here. Within 15 minutes of the Fox interview airing, I had a line of cars outside our building delivering us a hug and thank you cards and people were so amazing. That’s the reason the whole community focus is so important to me… to give back and really just giving people opportunities is so paramount to what we do and stand for.”
Author: Ashley Daniels