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With 45 years of service to our community, Sampan has grown into the number one custom apparel printer in Southern Indiana, providing custom t-shirts, signs, banners, printed promotional items, and marketing materials to Greater Louisville area and beyond. 

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Glenn and Ella Murphy started Sampan in 1979 as a small import shop in Jeffersonville, but our story really starts on a tour bus halfway around the world near the end of the Vietnam War. 


Glenn enlisted in the Navy after graduating Jeffersonville High School. He was a jet mechanic on the USS Saratoga when he met Ella Chan on shore leave in what was then the British territory of Hong Kong. Ella worked as a clerk at a hotel, but the person who ran their sightseeing tour called in sick. Ella was asked to fill in. By fate, Ella's tour was the one Glenn took when he arrived in the city. After a whirlwind romance, they married and Glenn moved Ella from a city of over 5 million people to a single-wide trailer in Utica, Indiana -- population 501.



“A sampan is a small boat that carries cargo back and forth from large sea freighters when a port is too shallow. It's the little boat that does the heavy hauling, sailing the out-of-reach trade goods to merchants waiting on land.”


Ella loved the small town life, but was homesick for the comforts of home. Glenn and Ella saw an opportunity to bring some of her homeland to the area that weren't available to 1970s Louisville. So in the fall of 1979, Glenn and Ella opened Sampan Oriental Imports in Jeffersonville, selling unique hand-selected trinkets, toys, clothing and furniture from the Far East.


The name Sampan was symbolic. A sampan is a small boat that carries cargo back and forth from large sea freighters to the shore when a port is too shallow. It's the little boat that does the heavy hauling, sailing out of reach trade goods to merchants waiting on land, and that rang true to them. 


Not long after opening their imports store , Glenn and Ella ordered t-shirts to promote their new business. To quote Glenn, "They were garbage." He couldn't find anyplace to print shirts to his standards, so he learned to print Glenn found some used screen printing equipment and started printing the store's shirts himself.


 When people saw the print quality, customers started asking Sampan to print shirts and uniforms for their sports teams and businesses. Glenn and Ella hired artists and more printers. The printing side of Sampan took off from there.


Sampan expanded exponentially on both sides of the business in 1984.


In 1984, Apple came out with the Macintosh computer that eventually changed the world of print and design. We were one of the first in line. Sampan went from rubylith film stencils and rub on letters to the early adoption of desktop publishing. The Mac and other new tools made us faster and more organized. We outpaced other screen printers with better work ethic and better technology.

Also in 1984, The Karate Kid took center stage. Followed by movies like Revenge of the Ninja and The Last Dragon, martial arts mania took over the 1980s and early 90s. Karate Dojos and Tai Kwon Do schools were in high demand. With our established supply connections, Sampan began providing and printing Karate uniforms and embroidering the belts for all of the martial arts schools in the area. With the graphic artists we had at hand, it was natural that Sampan began helping the schools with their overall marketing. 


We saw that they were all trying to recreate the same wheel, so we brought the heads of the schools together to form a league, helping each other grow and build the sport together. The schools all flourished and Sampan became the hub for all things involving the martial arts both locally.and then nationwide. Sampan Oriental Imports became Sampan Martial Arts Supplies with locations in Clarksville, Louisville and Lexington.


If you were a teenager in the 80s, you were probably lined up outside of Sampan's stores trying to buy things that put holes in your parents walls. That part of the story is for another time, but it involves ninjas, WWF pro wresters, a kung fu master who escaped communism on a raft made of basketballs, and a Winnebago van with a fist on it.



Sampan had a booth and sponsored almost every national and regional martial arts tournament at the time.  As people traveled from tournament to tournament, Sampan was there and  became the standard unifier nationally. Eventually we brought the national tournament organizers together to coordinate and learn from each other. Sampan began producing our own uniforms and safety equipment, learning to pad print on foam and hard surfaces outside of t-shirts and uniforms. Sampan became a nationwide brand in the sport. 


By the 90s, Glenn and Ella had begun to sell off the martial arts and safety gear portions of their business to focus more at home. By this time they had also opened restaurants in Clarksville, Utica, New Albany and Sellersburg. Ella had travel agencies in Bardstown, Kentucky and Jeffersonville.


Sampan's printing and marketing had grown so much that they began building a large facility in Utica. They added pneumatic screen printing presses that could print up to 800 shirts an hour. They added UV ink dryers and clamshell sign print presses , printing signs for politicians and churches as well as boxes and bags for the early years of Papa John's.


After after surviving a massive flood in 1997, Sampan  expanded and built up their production capabilities. They came back bigger and stronger. Sampan put up its first website in 1998 when Amazon was just selling books and CDs. 


The next generation started taking on more of the responsibilities by the early 2000s. Their children grew up in the business. Their daughter majored in business while their son majored in advertising and journalism. 

Sampan survived floods, a market crash, a pandemic, and a supply chain disruption. Glenn and Ella taught us all to pivot and flow, always preparing for tomorrow's challenges. They once lived in a single-wide trailer with a cinder block garage. Glenn built it by hand in the snow so he could make extra money working on cars.  Now Sampan's three-story office building sits on the plot of land  that was home to their old trailer and one of Sampan's production buildings surrounds a wall from that old cinder block garage. 


Glenn and Ella Murphy have lived the American dream and are thankful for the opportunities that the country and our community have given them. Sampan is born from that dream and we are committed to helping others realize what we have been fortunate enough to experience. 

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