“We are screen printers for the people!”
If you know anything about MacFly Fresh Printing Co., then you know the statement above from Eric Ndelo, the co-founder and creative director of MacFly, is more than true.
Located in Camp North End, the Charlotte-based screenprinting and design company is a staple of the Queen City’s creative community.
MacFly Fresh is focused on bringing designs to life and helping build brands through their screenprinting work, all while ensuring everything is as “fresh” as possible.
“Fresh” is an important word for the printing company. It’s in the name. It’s in their slogan: Fresh Goods Pressed Daily. It’s in everything they do. Whether you need custom shirts, hoodies, bags, masks or mugs, MacFly has you covered. If you can name it, they can probably print on it. All while guaranteeing maximum freshness, both literally and figuratively.
“It’s quality. Everything is coming up fresh and hot. When you go to the bakery, it’s best when it’s fresh. So, everything that comes out of this oven is fresh. Fresh baked goods. Fresh. Goods. Pressed. Daily. Quality is number one for me,” said Eric Ndelo on what being fresh means for MacFly’s products.
The Charlotte native has been keeping it “MacFly Fresh” full-time since 2015. He’s helped nonprofits, artists, musicians, and small business owners build their brands and solidify their fresh visual identity.
But it’s been a long journey to where he and the company are today. Before helping others build their brands, Eric had to build a few of his own and take a life-changing trip in the process.
Wear Your Heart (and History) On Your Sleeve
Ndelo’s passion for design and clothing was sparked in 1997 when Zaire became the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after 30 years of dictatorship. As a young Congolese-American living in Charlotte, NC, Ndelo was inspired by the changes that were happening in Africa.
This planted the seeds for Eric and his cousin, Roderick Vakala, who started talking about creating a socially conscious clothing line that paid homage to the DRC and gave greater Congolese representation in the fashion world. These conversations would eventually turn into the creation of the streetwear brand, DRC ApeParel.
While these talks were happening, Ndelo began attending NC State University and this is where things started to take off.
“At college, I started meeting designers and artists. We began really playing with the idea and started doing fashion shows,” recalled Eric. In 2004, he and a few friends created the first official DRC ApeParel t-shirt. Their first line was focused on the theme of “Rocking Your History on Your Chest!” Eric and the team are still creating pieces for DRC to this day.
At NC State, another design venture spawned from the work Eric and his friends were doing called — you guessed it — MacFly Fresh.
The Early Days of the Freshness
To get the word out about his fashion shows and parties, Ndelo began creating promotional flyers to post around town. People started not only noticing the flyers but also the high-quality designs that were on them. With demand for their design services growing, Eric and his friend John Dawkins started MacFly in 2004. But, they weren’t printing on clothes just yet.
“We started doing business cards, flyers, logos for people and that’s what started the whole MacFly concept. MacFly started off as strictly a design company. It was MacFly Fresh Concepts of Ascension.”
“We wanted to take your concepts and make it fly. Take it to the heavens,” says Eric about the early days on MacFly Fresh.
He continued working on clothing lines for DRC ApeParel and print jobs for MacFly Fresh, but first Eric had to take a trip to a place many creatives fear to tread … the corporate world.
There’s No Place Like Home
Ndelo returned to Charlotte from Raleigh and, for nearly a decade, held jobs in corporate America, using his degrees in digital media production and electrical engineering. He still created for DRC ApeParel and MacFly on the side, but wasn’t able to fully devote his time to his creative endeavors.
In 2014, he had an opportunity to travel a place his heart always called home, but had never actually visited — the Congo.
He was invited to participate in the Congo International Film Festival in the town of Goma in eastern DRC. For a portion of his trip, Eric was able to teach a two-week course on a topic of his choosing. He decided to teach a screen printing and branding course based on his years working on DRC ApeParel and MacFly Fresh projects.
“It was really my first time screenprinting on my own and teaching anyone how to do it. After seeing how much love I got back while being on my own soil for the first time and being able to see the impact that I could give, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” said Eric on his experience teaching the course to Congolese youth.
He knew it was time for a career change once he returned to Charlotte. Six months later, Eric left his corporate job and started working on MacFly Fresh Printing Co. full-time.
Return of the Mac
Like all great startups, MacFly Fresh was headquartered out of a garage for the first year. Eric bought his first screen printing machine, a dryer and some inks and got to business. “In 2015, I hustled a lot. I f—ed up a lot. And I learned a lot.”
In 2016, MacFly expanded. Eric and his team, including Taj Polite, the co-owner and head of business development for the printing company, moved into a warehouse space. This meant more room and more projects. A year later, they expanded even further by adding a second six-screen press and a mobile screen printing press.
Since it’s inception, MacFly Fresh has been community-focused, whether they’re working with nonprofits to help establish their brands or creating signature merchandise for local artists and musicians or leading workshops to teach the screenprinting process. With the addition of the mobile press, MacFly could physically get out into the community and take their expertise with them.
In 2017, they took the MacFly Fresh show on the road for the first time to BOOM Charlotte, a three-day arts festival that happens every spring in Plaza Midwood. With the mobile press in hand, the team was able to interact with members of the community and teach the process in a hands-on way by letting them press their own shirts.
The experience was nothing less than a success.
“That just put in our minds that people love this. I love talking with people and teaching the art of screen printing. I love spreading this whole art form,” said Eric on being able to use the mobile machine to connect with the community.
From teaching classes at local schools to holding pop-up print sessions at Camp North End to taking over the intersection of Trade and Tryon for the 2019 Charlotte SHOUT! Festival, the mobile machine allowed MacFly’s connection with the Charlotte community to deepen even further.
Modern Day MacFly
In June 2019, MacFly Fresh made the move to their current home at Camp North End, which has quickly become a hub for creatives to connect with Eric and the team.
“We want to put people up. We’ve always been individuals and creatives who want to help other people shine and bring out the best in them. To allow their creativity and their skills to shine. For them to come here, to our own space and to consider us as family and a home for them to launch their brand, it’s an honor. It’s a dream come true.”
Lately, MacFly Fresh’s new space has served as a stage for another creative endeavor, “Live from the Print Shop.” Creatives Rhasaan Smith and Terance Murray approached Eric about using the print shop as a space to hold virtual concerts and performances, and Eric was all for it.
While the artist is performing, Eric is in the background printing up a t-shirt for the band in real-time. “To see the film and digital content with the screen printing combined into one gumbo is amazing to me,” said Eric on the project. You can watch previous episodes on the “Live from the Print Shop” YouTube page. (And please stay tuned to The Biscuit for an interview with creators Rhasaan and Terance later this week.)
Inking the Future of the Creative Scene
Eric and the team are well connected to Charlotte’s creative community and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Between working with designers, artists, musicians, filmmakers and creatives of all sorts, MacFly Fresh has their finger on the pulse of where Charlotte is and where it’s going.
On the future of Charlotte’s creative scene, Eric had this to say:
“We have some of the dopest artists and creatives in this city. The talent is here. Charlotte is going to have a scene that people will want to come see. You gotta go to New York. You gotta go to Philly. You gotta go to LA. You have to go to these places. I think Charlotte is building its way towards that.”
We agree, and our gut tells us that the hottest souvenir is going to be an “I Went to Charlotte and All I Got Was This Fresh T-Shirt” shirt from MacFly Fresh.
So, stay creative. Stay fly. And, as always, stay fresh.
Ndelo Gettin’ it Done at Charlotte SHOUT! 2019
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This Queen City creative profile is the third in a nine-part series titled “Something to SHOUT About,” where we interview various Charlotteans about their creative journeys and the work they are doing today. This series is sponsored by Charlotte Center City Partners and Charlotte SHOUT.
To keep in line with the four pillars of Charlotte SHOUT, the profiles focus on the categories of art, music, food and ideas. Eric Ndelo and the team at MacFly Fresh are the embodiment of combining art and ideas to create meaningful connections to your community and your culture through your creative endeavors.
Stay tuned for our next installment in the series where we speak to Rhasaan Smith and Terance Murray of “Live from the Print Shop.”
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