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Dan Lachman '09 hires designers from all over the world to create images for his T-shirt and computer-skin business, Sharp Shirter. He runs the business when he's not busy with classes. Lachman is wearing one of his designs, above, featuring a gorilla riding an ostrich.
Posted 12.07.07

Student Entrepreneur Creates, Operates T-Shirt Business

For the past year, Dan Lachman ’09 has gotten used to wearing his heart on his sleeves. The Wesleyan junior has put all his creative energy into an online-based T-shirt company, and his imaginative designs are selling world-wide.

Psychology major Lachman created his business, Sharp Shirter, in September 2006 after turning a daydream idea into a T-shirt design. This month, he’s releasing the 21st design to the T-shirt collection.

“It’s pretty exciting how this business has taken off,” says Lachman, 21. “It shows that there’s a real demand for graphic tees with warped themes that blend reality with fantasy.”

Lachman is the sole business owner and oversees a dozen designers from as far away as Bolivia, Thailand and The Netherlands. He ships the T-shirt orders from his home in Bethesda, Maryland, and relies on his mother to help with the orders while he’s away at college.

But even on campus, Lachman’s life is absorbed with the business. Being a full-time student and part-time entrepreneur has become a grueling routine.

“Managing time between my business and school is getting tougher each month,” Lachman says. “My free time and weekends are mainly spent catching up on business chores. Luckily, I structured my course schedule to be on the less strenuous side.”

Lachman’s tee line-up evolved from a couple of run-of the-mill word shirts like “No Double Dips”, to a variety of graphic based designs such as “The Paper Plane Tree” which displays a tree with paper planes growing on its branches, flying around, and crumpling up on the ground like leaves (pictured at right). Among the other out-of-the-box designs an exploding fire hydrant, a gorilla riding an ostrich to victory, a computer mouse munching on nails (pictured below), a dancing bear with a tape player stuck on its head and person standing in a bucket at the bottom of a wishing well.

These twisted yet playful designs gradually caught on, and are now big sellers in major department stores like Lord and Taylor and YRB.

Through a grueling cold-calling routine, Lachman got his tees to make national headlines. In October 2006, the Washington Post ran a photo of the design “Transphoner” and mentioned Lachman’s new site. America’s Top Model TV show contestant wore “The Plane Tree” tee on MTV, and fabsugar.com suggested the Sharp Shirter “Mosquito” design as an inexpensive and “cool guy gift idea.” The business also was mentioned as a “Clothing Site of the Day” by Indigo Clothing and the design “Electrobug’ was featured on tshirtisland.com.

But 3,000 tee sales is just the beginning of Lachman’s business plan. As of this week he will be releasing a new line of 13 Sharp Skins, graphic adhesive stickers that mount to the back of a laptop, and can peel off without leaving any mark.

“The backs of laptops are blank canvases waiting for a sweet design to get slapped on.” He explains. “Nowadays everyone has a laptop, but I’ve only seen a couple stickers on the back. The market for skins seems to be wide open.”

Lachman targets his sweatshop-free cotton tees to men and women, college-aged to late 20s. Its main sources of revenue come from retail stores Lord and Taylor, Yellow Rat Bastard and Defunker.com (the owners of collegehumor.com and Busted Tees). Lachman sells them from his own website, sharpshirter.com, and also by word of mouth.

“I do wear my tees quite a bit on campus,” he says. “Every now and then I get a comment from someone that doesn’t know I made the tee. When they hear that the tee comes from my company, they usually want a free one. Unfortunately, I’m not big enough to be handing them out yet, but we’ll see where I am next year.”
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor. Photos by Olivia Bartlett and Ben Rowland. Models are Wesleyan students Austin Purnell, Nicolas Nauman and Katerli Batista.