Earlier this week, Dan Lachman ’09 shipped off boxes of t-shirts to Lord and Taylor to be sold in their stores. And while the department store may be Lachman’s largest client yet, it is certainly not his first.

“My shirts are in 27 stores now, mostly little indie boutiques,” Lachman said.

Known for his original designs, Lachman has been selling t-shirts off of his website, www.sharpshirter.com, for over a year. It was not always clear, however, that his endeavors would succeed.

“I basically started in eleventh grade, just thinking up some ideas for shirts,” Lachman said.

Lachman invented many t-shirt designs, but he wasn’t good enough at drawing to properly execute the concepts. He needed a way to get them drawn and printed onto shirts. Not knowing exactly where to begin, Lachman searched the web and found sites that accept various design ideas—if they like the idea, they make the shirts.

Unfortunately, while Lachman might have found his ideas enthralling, no one else seemed to agree. Looking back on his high school designs now, he understands why.

“It was a long time ago,” Lachman said. “My original designs were not very good, mostly just stupid stuff.”

But Lachman was not about to let these rejections deter him. With no websites willing to back him up, he decided to go solo. He knew that if he could find designers to draw his ideas, he would be able to get the shirts printed.

“I started going on Craigslist looking for designers,” Lachman said. “I didn’t really know that much about how to go about it.”

Beyond his lack of experience, Lachman was missing another important resource: cash. Unable to spare much money, he was only able to offer designers $30 per design—an amount that was, apparently, insufficient.

“I was pretty much inundated with hate mail and people saying I wasn’t going to get any good designs for that little money,” Lachman said.

After months of frustrating rejections and poor executions of his designs, Lachman’s luck took a turn for the better. He finally found one designer who, as a German exchange student, was not allowed to work in America and therefore was unable to accept any pay. She merely wanted a chance to expand her portfolio. Lachman was happy to give her just that.

“The portfolio that she had was actually really decent,” Lachman said. “My style has changed a lot since then so I don’t think I would really hire her now, but originally it was pretty unbelievable to me.”

Finally, Lachman was able to see his ideas executed on paper. Lachman then began discovering new and better ways to find designers who were willing to draw his ideas. He now uses Threadless, an Internet-based company that sponsors t-shirt design contests, to scout out budding designers.

“I can look at the site and be a design hunter,” Lachman said. “I found my number one guy that way—he is from Thailand and has won Threadless six times.”

Lachman now works with about ten designers from all over the world.

“It takes about an hour to explain the idea to the designers,” Lachman said. “On average, it usually takes [the designers] about three times to get it right.”

Lachman says that there are both pros and cons to his inability to draw his own designs.

“I’m at an advantage looking at it from a consumer point of view. People who draw their own designs get attached,” Lachman said. “It sucks that I can’t draw, but I’m working with amazing guys who all have great different styles.”

Despite his success, Lachman occasionally goes to an outside source for help. His friend Andrew Kneynsberg ’09 sometimes offers advice in the design process and also comes along to tradeshows.

“I pretty much just tell him what I think of his stuff and give him a bit of my criticism,” Kneynsberg said. “Mostly about new designs and images that he’s too involved with to see some of the little things.”

When Lachman has finalized a design and had it printed, he meets with store managers, showing them sample t-shirts and ideas. In bigger stores, Lachman has found that one of the greatest battles is simply getting the chance to meet with someone.

“What I’ve leaned is that no response does not equal a ’no,’” Lachman said. “You just have to be persistent. And I have also gotten some ’no’s.’ You just have to keep on trying and not take it personally.”

Luckily, Lachman’s efforts seem to be paying off. More and more stores are picking up his shirts, and he has been getting a significant amount of press. He has also received a bit of free advertising around campus, thanks to Kneynsberg.

“I also wear his shirts and make a big deal about how cool the shirt I’m wearing is,” said Kneynsberg.

Although Lachman knows that plugging his shirts is a big part of the business, he hopes that people are inspired more by the actual designs than by the attention they are receiving.

“Hopefully, the designs speak for themselves,” he said.

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