With the green light from the Town Plan & Zoning Commission, Orange native Shawn Liu will make his hometown the world headquarters of his family’s international company. Last month the Town Plan and Zoning Commission approved Liu’s application to construct a two-story, 39,020 square foot building on a 4.64-acre parcel at 220 Edison Road.
Liu, who grew up on Fairway Road, is Director of Digital Technologies, a company that manufactures water-based, pigmented inks and coatings used in textile printing. “Our niche is direct-to-garment printing on fabrics,” Liu explained. “We print on a lot of different textiles but our tee-shirt line has really taken off.” In a presentation before the TPZC, Liu rattled off the names of several major sports apparel manufacturers who are among those using his ink products. In his presentation to the TPZC, Liu mentioned that his products are 100% water based, meet the highest eco-safety standards, and passed the “Disney Test,” known as one of the most stringent in the industry. “It’s pretty darn cool to digitally print on fabric,” Liu said. The new building, scheduled to break ground by July, is expected to take nine months to complete and will be headquarters for the company’s offices, manufacturing plant and distribution warehouse.
Shawn’s business is a division of Firebird Digital Inks, a company started in 1996 by his parents, Orange residents Clement and Audrey Liu. When Clement, who had emigrated from Taiwan, was laid off from his job as a research chemist at Bic in Milford, he focused on an up and coming trend – the demand for water-based ink. Tapping into his own entrepreneurial spirit and his background in polymer chemistry, Clement developed a gel-ink pen. “My parents started formulating the inks in our garage. I remember going to school and they had these whirring mixers going all day. They eventually were able to optimize the formulation with various raw material and they developed a much smoother writing instrument,” Liu said. Now the Lius export their made-in-the-USA products to China and other Asian markets as well as to South America and across the US. The business will be relocating from its current space in Milford. “Our current space is constraining,” Liu said. “We’re seeking to double the size of our team when we move.”
Liu had looked into other locations in surrounding towns but First Selectman Jim Zeoli and Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Annemarie Sliby were so accommodating and encouraging he decided to look no further than his hometown. “It is a very welcoming connection to do business with people you know – Jim Zeoli was my sister Shirley’s bus driver in elementary school!” he said. “It feels right to do this in our own neighborhood—to establish something local for the long term. It’s really exciting to invest in our own property here in our town.”
Liu, who graduated from Amity Regional High School, has a degree from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Yale University. He lives with his wife and son on Prudden Lane.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent