Dan Lachman wanted to be an artist, but he realized early on that his drawing skills were limited to stick figures. As a ninth-grader, he created iron-on decals of movie titles he liked -- including "Seven" and "Fight Club" -- and printed them on blank T-shirts. Later, he came up with goofy phrases and e-mailed T-shirt companies, begging them to print his ideas. They refused. "I was like, whatever, I'll do it myself," Dan recalls.
Since then, Dan's aesthetic has evolved from catchy slogan T-shirts to richly colored garments that showcase the work of emerging artists from around the world. Since finding his first designer through Craigslist when he was a high school senior and starting his company, Sharp Shirter, Dan, 21, of Bethesda has joined with nearly two dozen artists to create clothing and laptop skins.
"I've lost a lot of ego through this process," Dan says. "At first I wanted it to be all about me, my concept, my ideas. Now it's just wanting to sell it from a lover of art's point of view."
Dan was born in Georgetown, the son of a teacher and an economist. He attended Sidwell Friends School and graduated from the Maret School before enrolling at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where he is a senior. He wanted to study film but found the program too focused on film history and soon switched to psychology.
Since he started Sharp Shirter in 2005, his shirts have been picked up by Lord & Taylor and are available at a handful of trendy boutiques; he also sells them at craft fairs, through online retailers and on his Web site, along with dresses, hoodies and laptop skins, which are decorative vinyl stickers that protect computers.
After coming up with an idea, Dan scours the Internet for images, which he combines with crude drawings. He e-mails the collages to a designer, who sends back mock-ups that Dan amends. For a recent design called "Not So Dandy," Dan started with a sepia-toned photograph of a dandelion blowing in the wind and drew a small stick figure of a girl clinging to one of the white seeds. He e-mailed it to a Bangkok designer who goes by the name Huebucket, and the artist sent back a detailed drawing of the girl and the flower. After a little more back and forth, the finished image, printed on red women's T-shirts and tank tops, is now part of Dan's clothing line.
Dan started Sharp Shirter with $3,000 he earned as a camp counselor the summer before college. Last year, the company did about $30,000 in sales, netting about $6,000. Dan says he expects overall sales to increase by at least 30 percent this year.
Leann Trowbridge, co-owner of Meeps Vintage Fashionette in Adams Morgan, says Dan's designs resonate with a range of customers, from hipsters to frat boys. "His is definitely the fastest-selling T-shirt line that we've ever had," Trowbridge says.
After college, Dan says, he plans to move to Philadelphia and continue expanding Sharp Shirter while perhaps working for a start-up company that's further along so he can learn more about running a business. Ultimately, he wants to run Sharp Shirter online from South Africa, where his father was born and where Dan and his family visit regularly.
Building the company has freed him to imagine an unconventional future, he says. "I've always been this independent kid, into my own little world," Dan says. "It's such a good feeling that your little world can become something you can live off of."
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