Before 2020, Madison Sinclair hadn’t seen any of the “Twilight” films. But after seeing all five of them during quarantine, she fell completely in love – and inspired to express her new fandom.
“I wanted to do something that was like, ‘Is this satire or is this real?'” Ms. Sinclair, 21, said on a video call from her home in Houston. The result was a t-shirt made on a clothing customization website with the phrases “Bite me, big boy!” and “I love my vampire friend” is flanked by a photo of Robert Pattinson, the male lead in the film. On the back it said, “Edward Cullen’s Biggest Fan!” in bright pink letters.
When Ms. Sinclair wore the shirt in a TikTok video, the comments soon filled with questions about where to buy it.
“I thought to myself, ‘You must be kidding. This is the most random, specific t-shirt ever. Why are so many people interested in this? ‘”Said Ms. Sinclair.
She started selling them on Depop – a website often used to list “favorite” items – but after receiving nearly 80 inquiries on her first day, she had to scale up. So she bought a web domain, BUGGIRL200.com (after her TikTok username) and started her own online shop. Since then, she has sold more than 15,000 shirts, each one reflecting a winking nostalgia for cultural touchstones of the past two decades. (Other designs show Adam Sandler, Michael Cera, One Direction, and Pitbull.)
She learned the sublimation printing process to make the shirts herself; dropped out of the University of Houston where she was a marketing student; and made the business her full time job.
“I owe this TikTok my entire current life,” said Ms. Sinclair.
Her work has not gone unnoticed by the celebrity class: Olivia Rodrigo, for example, tagged her friend Iris Apatow – Judd’s daughter – on an Instagram photo of a BUGGIRL200 original that reads: “I think the Twilight films are FANTASTIC! !!!! If you think that doesn’t make me SEXY and COOL, DON’T TALK TO ME !!!!! I am not joking.”
The picture fell on romance films of 21-year-old Dulce Clara, a student in San Marcos, California, “she said. When she saw Mrs. Rodrigo’s post, she said: “I fell in love with the shirt immediately and bought it.”
Cece Gude, 25, a musician from Miami, owns Adam Sandler and Michael Cera shirts; She wears one almost every week. “He’s my favorite actor,” she said of Mr. Sandler, “and in my opinion he really is one of the funniest people in Hollywood.”
Maya Avalos, 22, a Chicago student, first heard about TikTok from the brand and bought a pit bull shirt to match a pit bull concert. “I love pit bulls so a shirt with a pit bull surrounded by flames was a must,” she said, adding that she “has never seen a shirt with such a cool sense of humor”.
Ms. Sinclair’s website is powered by Shopify, where around 1.7 million merchants sell all types of goods. The company saw a surge in usage during the pandemic when most brick and mortar retailers shifted sales online. And it has made it a lot easier for upstarts to get small businesses up and running.
“In the dot-com era, you had to buy computer servers, write code and spend three months to a year on them,” said Gary Dushnitsky, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School. “Only large companies or those that had both foresight and the ability to make large upfront investments were able to build and expand a virtual presence.”
Today that’s no longer the case due to low-code platforms like Shopify, Wix, and Magento. “A creative person no longer has to spend weeks looking for a technical co-founder. Rather, they can use any of these platforms to start and expand a successful presence, ”said Dushnitsky. This can lead to more innovation and experimentation, as well as more diversity in store setups, he added, “including those traditionally lacking technical knowledge and initial capital.”
For Ms. Sinclair, the accessibility that Shopify offered was key to launching BUGGIRL200. After the start-up, she moved from her parents’ house into her own apartment and devoted herself fully to the clothing company.
“It’s still so scary because at the end of the day this is a ‘Twilight’ t-shirt business,” she said. That slight absurdity is also the point.
“I like it when people get on my side and have no idea whether I’m a 14-year-old Taylor Swift fan or a grown woman who makes a living on t-shirts,” said Ms. Sinclair.