Elva Arreola prints Warriors finals t-shirts at Brand Marinade screen printing shop in San Leandro on May 27, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
Jeremy Castro couldn’t stand watching Warriors fans throw their gold promotional shirts at NBA analyst and noted Warriors hater Charles Barkley on national TV. After all, he’s trying to cut waste from his San Leandro screen printing shop.
“That’s not what they’re for,” says Castro, a day after the Warriors eliminated the Dallas Mavericks and fans unleashed on Barkley outside of San Francisco's Chase Center.
It’s a Friday afternoon, and in the humming warehouse of Castro’s shop Brand Marinade, production has started on the NBA Finals variation of “Gold Blooded” shirts that will be draped over 18,000 seats before each Warriors home game. Golden State faces the Boston Celtics in search of its fourth title in eight seasons, with Game 1 on Thursday, June 2, at Chase Center.
In the world of sports merchandising, Brand Marinade is a relatively small, local operation working around the clock to meet demand for its largest contract yet. Rooted in the Bay Area with a hip-hop background, the company is a natural fit with the Warriors—even while navigating supply issues and reacting quickly to wins and losses.
“Having people wear something with pride is my passion,” says Castro, 45, who believes an arena flooded in gold can provide a home-court advantage. He may be right: the Warriors are 9-0 at home this postseason.
It takes five days for Castro’s team to print 20,000 shirts—two-plus days if they work through the night, rotating shifts. But, as he puts it, “The energy from the shirts is exponential.”
Predicting Wins and Losses
If you’re struggling to find an extra-large gold shirt this summer, Todd Schneiderman is to blame. His Nashville-based company, Something Inked, is the Warriors’ promotions partner. In January, the vice president of sales evaluated the national sports landscape and purchased large quantities of color shirts. The Warriors’ gold shirts could have easily been gold Michigan Wolverines championship shirts, or gold Nashville Predators playoff shirts, or gold Indiana Pacers… (actually, never mind). This year, blue shirts expected to be printed for the Los Angeles Clippers, who missed the playoffs, ended up with Mavericks fans for the series against the Warriors.
The promotional shirts are extra large because, as Castro explains, “A fat guy can squeeze into it, a small person can swear it into a dress or to bed, women can cut it up as a halter top. Then you don’t have to deal with the size issue, which is the biggest challenge with T-shirts.”
Like a Las Vegas odds-maker, Schneiderman projects game outcomes to help printers have enough time to produce inventory while limiting waste. During the West finals, after the Warriors took a 3-0 series lead, Castro printed a “pre-buy” batch of shirts in case the Warriors lost Game 4—they did—and the series returned to Chase Center for Game 5. The risk is that if the Warriors had won Game 4 to end the series, shirts made for Game 5 would likely have been given away at Finals watch parties. The biggest risk, of course, is printing championship apparel in advance for a team that loses the title. Those shirts are trashed or shipped to other countries.
“I am kind of numb to it at this point,” says Schneiderman of having production determined by a Stephen Curry three-pointer or Draymond Green blocked shot. “It’s more of a sick-to-the-stomach feeling. The same thing happened with the Grizzlies, when the Warriors had that crap game (prompting a Game 6 at Chase Center).”
Schneiderman couldn’t procure enough gold shirts for the entire playoffs, so fans received black “Gold Blooded” shirts for the first two rounds. “It didn’t have the same effect,” he admits.
For Warriors shirt orders, Schneiderman typically works with Blue Frog, a shop in San Leandro. When Blue Frog had a backlog of orders, the print company outsourced much of the Warriors project to Brand Marinade. Castro, who founded Brand Marinade in 2009 and had never received an order this large, put less time-sensitive orders on hold and jumped at the chance.
An East Bay Operation
Over the past decade, Castro estimates 50% of local print shops have closed or left the Bay Area for cheaper rent. Supply-chain bottlenecks, compounded by the coronavirus shutdown and subsequent restrictions, have put a premium on printing locally to reduce delivery time.
On Friday in San Leandro, an eight-color, 10-station press prints the new “Gold Blooded” design—provided by the Warriors—to the front of the gold shirts. The freshly printed logo is then cured with a dryer, after which the shirts are stacked and moved to another press that prints a shoulder sleeve logo of that round’s playoff sponsor. Before the shirts leave the warehouse, they’re folded and boxed for distribution at Chase Center, where they’re neatly placed on seats before fans enter the arena.
On a high shelf in the warehouse, Castro points to a small screen printer once used by his uncle to teach inmates at San Quentin State Prison. Castro was gifted the printer, and as an Alameda High School math teacher in 2003, he used it to make spirit week shirts for the campus.
The Alameda native has been hooked by the power of apparel ever since.
In 2020, when Mali Watkins, a Black man, was wrestled to the ground and arrested by Alameda police for dancing in the street, Castro printed “Dancing In The Street For Justice” shirts in protest. During the coronavirus quarantine that same year, he converted shirt inventory to masks and donated them throughout Oakland with NFL star Marshawn Lynch. When wildfires ravaged the state, Castro donated color-coded shirts to help organize volunteers.
Brand Marinade’s high-profile clients include Lynch, whose Beast Mode apparel is synonymous with Oakland culture; Oakland rapper Too Short; and Ruff Ryders, the label of the late East Coast rapper DMX. An influx of prospective corporate contracts gives Castro hope that he’ll reach a goal of 50 employees, and move out of the 15,000-square-foot warehouse.
The Championship Grind
If Golden State reaches a potential title-clinching game, Castro plans to hold a staff viewing party in the warehouse. Should the Warriors prevail, Brand Marinade would start 36 consecutive hours of printing to meet the demands of retail, as well as a victory parade.
Manager Nick Hankins is one of the few Brand Marinade employees who has experienced the championship grind, having worked for a Sacramento shop that produced postseason gear during the San Francisco Giants’ 2012 championship run.
As for keeping a positive attitude through the arduous and often monotonous process, workers rely on “jokes, music and snacks,” Hankins says.
“It can be physically challenging on the production side,” he adds. “This is one of the biggest projects anyone has seen here.”
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