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Independent T-Shirt Start-Ups Rapidly Turn Into Mega Brands

The Busted Knuckle Garage. Balmy Palms.  Life is Good.  Johnny Cupcakes. What do all these brands have in common? They all started as bootstrap lifestyle brands, with a few logo t-shirts created by innovative founders on a shoestring budget. And they’ve all carved out unique niches and had remarkable success catering their lifestyle brands to targeted segments of consumers. These brands enable wearers to express their passions and make statements about their lifestyles (or desired lifestyles).

The Busted Knuckle Garage offers a line of t-shirts and gifts targeting "wrench-twisting car guys, bikers and wannabes." Started from the founder’s garage, this brand now offers more than 200 products and has been featured in Entrepreneur and Brandweek magazines. 

The Balmy Palms brand targets those longing for a relaxing tropical island lifestyle.  Started by a single founder and self-proclaimed "parrothead," the brand’s apparel and accessories are now sold by select retailers throughout the U.S., with limited special edition merchandise available on the Balmy Palms website.

Life is Good started with two brothers selling t-shirts from the back of their van. Their positive messages resonated with people who shared their sense of optimism (or wanted to). Growth of the product line has been exponential, and sales have reached over $100 million. 

Another t-shirt brand that began from the back of a van is Johnny Cupcakes.  Originally created as a joke by a print shop employee, the Johnny Cupcakes line pokes fun at pop culture by replacing familiar icons with cupcakes. The brand has developed a sort of cult following, and revenue climbed from $300,000 to over $3 million in the past three years. 

There seems to be a Iesson here for aspiring entrepreneurs.  If you know of an underserved market segment, create a t-shirt brand to help them express themselves…you could be on your way to a mega brand!

Additional photo credits from the following websites:
Johnny Cupcakes | Life is Good