Many years ago, when Sandra Knowles White's great-grandfather worked in the West Virginia coal mines, her great-grandmother searched for ways to get black coal dust out of her husband's clothing. Fast-forward to the 1990s. Knowles White, 48, thought it might be fun to dye an old T-shirt with coal and see what happened. It came out a deep, matte black that everyone agreed looked unique.
But the dye faded to gray in the wash, so White found a local chemist, and together they prepared a formula to make the dye permanent. In 1996, Knowles White turned her basement into a factory, running T-shirts through an old wringer and turning them into a product line for Black Gold Creations Inc., sold for $21.95 each at local gift shops and via a Web site.
The T-shirts are packaged with a tag explaining the process and a small bag of Appalachian coal, and the company has expanded to include a line of custom-printed, coal-dyed T-shirts and sweatshirts popular with mining companies and other local businesses. Knowles White and her sister, Linda Wilson, plan to market the shirts in Pennsylvania and other "coal states."