Making It

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By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tami Mensh has so many interests that she had a hard time settling on a college major. "I couldn't ever decide what I wanted to do because I liked too many different things," she says. But with ShopUnitee.com, her new line of "inspirational activewear," Tami has found a way to unify her enthusiasm for clothing, yoga, business -- and words.

Tami, 42, grew up and still lives in Gaithersburg and attended the University of Maryland, where she wound up majoring in general studies. After college, she worked with her mother, who owns the B'Dazzled clothing store in Bethesda, and took jobs in marketing and advertising before becoming a stay-at-home mom to three children, a son, now 8, and twin 6-year-old girls. Having overcome infertility, "I was so happy once I had them that I wanted to focus solely on them and enjoy them," she says.

As the children grew, Tami searched for a flexible way to join her interests in business and clothing with her newer passion for yoga, something she had found helpful while struggling with infertility. She sketched out an idea for a line of yoga-related clothing with Zenlike phrases on them.

In May 2006, Tami had 72 shirts printed up with sayings such as "simplify," "breathe" and "enjoy the journey." She packaged them in Chinese takeout containers, took them to a boutique sale at her children's school, and to her surprise almost sold out.

The shirts mean different things to different people, says Tami, a petite dynamo. One customer bought a "breathe" shirt in memory of her sister, who died of lung cancer. "It's become more than just about shirts."

Tami continues to sell her clothing at boutique sales and at-home parties, as well as online and at B'Dazzled and Sacred Space Yoga in Rockville. She sold 1,000 shirts, which range from $30 to $42, in the remaining months of 2006, then 3,000 in 2007. She has added new words, phrases and shirt designs, along with yoga pants and children's sizes. She started with an initial investment of $6,000, turned a profit after nine months and has been putting the money back into the company.

This winter, Unitee was plucked from obscurity to be a giveaway at the swag party for celebrities attending the Golden Globe Awards. Even though the Globes ceremony itself was canceled, the swag party went on, and Tami, who had taken out a $25,000 loan to cover the $15,000 sponsorship fee, travel costs and giveaway shirts, decided to fly out anyway. "The minute I got there, I knew I had made the right decision," she says. Unitee was the first booth, so she saw the guests when they were fresh, joked around with celebrities from Josh Groban to Marlee Matlin, and passed her shirts on to TV stars Tina Fey of "30 Rock" and Bob Harper of "The Biggest Loser" through their colleagues.

Samantha Haft-Simon, co-founder of On 3 Productions, which organized the party, said in an e-mail that she included Unitee because she thought the messages on the shirts "would resonate" with Hollywood's hot young stars. "Unitee was a huge hit with the talent that visited the lounge, men and women alike," she said.

Next up for Tami -- clothing for men and, of course, more words. One phrase Tami came up with that could work on a shirt and also sums up her entrepreneurial experience: "The view changes with every step."

Have you melded a range of eclectic personal interests into a successful business? E-mail changb@washpost.com.


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