Printing and Fulfilling Dreams at The Forge


the forge elma
Matt Johnson stands next to his mom, Aissa Rognlin, in front of a sign he designed for her storefront.

The Forge in Elma is a young business, open since about the middle of last year. It services printing and screening needs for apparel, signs, trophies, embroidery, and the like. With a strong historical influence on his art, Matt Johnson, owner of The Forge, has a story behind his designs: “I’m kind of a nerd. Back in the old days, blacksmiths at the forges would make armory. We make modern day armor. I love history and it effects my art a ton. Most of my stuff is based off of it.”

Johnson appears to be an ordinary guy and if you see him, you will likely glimpse his four-legged friend, Churchill, tagging along behind him. Churchill is a shelter-dog, adopted by Johnson and named after the World War II icon, Winston Churchill. Spoiled now with treats and an owner who takes him everywhere, it is hard to imagine the rough past Churchill most likely had.

With a rough past himself, I’m sure this is part of the reason Johnson finds himself so attached to his furry friend. Looking back on a life afflicted by drug addiction, Johnson reflects, “You wake up one day and realize, in that mindset at least, that the best the world has to offer is behind you and somehow you’ve missed it. That was one thing that made me wake up. You can’t live that life forever.”

Since getting clean, Johnson has found new hope. “It is almost like being a kid again – like everything is on the table again. There’s this wonderment and freedom like there’s nothing you can’t do,” explains Johnson. Now, Johnson has renewed relationships with his mom and brother, and has rekindled his excitement and passion for art.

“You have to be dedicated to make a business work. The business was not a priority. In my normal mind I don’t understand why I did that, but back then it was just a way of life,” says Johnson. “It is total bondage to be that kind of sick, and you don’t think like a normal person. It is not an excuse, but if people could experience that mindset, they may have more understanding with the people who are in that bondage.”

the forge elma
Churchill is a shelter dog Johnson rescued. The duo are now inseparable.

In contrast, Johnson now thrives on every small success his business achieves – success that he attributes largely in part due to the support and help provided by his girlfriend, Chelsea. “[Without Chelsea], I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything really. She keeps everything running smoothly,” he says. With his bright outlook and the support of his girlfriend, Johnson hopes to expand, develop new locations, and eventually have an online presence with on-demand printing.

He’s also tossing around the idea of making materials available to budding artists. That way, those interested in printing and screening design can come try out their ideas using real equipment, “Almost like a Build-A-Bear workshop,” explains Johnson after rattling off his list of ideas for business growth. “I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid. I used to feel like the best life had to offer was behind me. It’s finally getting to the point now where I feel like maybe it is all coming together.”

With many ideas spinning around in his mind, Johnson is taking small steps toward his dreams, including making sure his customers receive top-notch service. At times, he will stay overnight at his store to make sure an order is ready by the next day. Developing healthy habits has been an adjustment, but it has also given Johnson renewed energy. “Hope is that much better when you’ve despaired. Success is that much better when you’ve been an utter failure and I’ve spent most of my life being that so it is nice to finally feel like I’m finally starting to turn a corner. It is pretty sweet,” says Johnson.

The contrast in Johnson’s life is inspirational and provides an example of hope for others. The Forge business is growing because of Johnson’s team’s creative abilities and goals. His story is just one more reason to shop local – you never know what kinds of dreams you are helping fulfill.

To learn more, contact The Forge at 360-470-6828 or connect with the company via Facebook.


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