Before 2020, Madison Sinclair hadn’t seen any of the “Twilight” movies. But after seeing all five of them during quarantine, she fell completely in love — and inspired to express her newfound fandom.
“I wanted to do something that was like, ‘Is this satire or is this real?'” Ms. Sinclair, 21, said during a video call from her home in Houston. The result was a T-shirt, created using a clothing customization website, with the phrases “Bite me, big boy!” and “I love my vampire boyfriend” alongside a photo of Robert Pattinson, the male lead in the films. The back said “Edward Cullen’s Biggest Fan!” in bright pink letters.
When Ms. Sinclair wore the shirt in a TikTok video, comments quickly filled with questions about where to buy it.
“I was like, ‘They’re kidding. This is the most random, specific T-shirt ever. Why are so many people doing this?’” Ms Sinclair said.
She started selling them on Depop — a site often used to list “pre-loved” items — but after receiving nearly 80 requests on her first day, she realized she needed to scale up. So she bought a web domain, BUGGIRL200.com (after her TikTok username), and built her own online store. Since then, she has sold more than 15,000 shirts, each with an ironic nostalgia for cultural touchstones of the past two decades. (Other designs feature 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 my entire present life to that TikTok,” Ms Sinclair said.
Her work has not gone unnoticed by the celebrities: Olivia Rodrigo, for example, tagged her friend Iris Apatow – daughter of Judd – in an Instagram photo of a BUGGIRL200 original that reads: “I think the Twilight movies are GREAT !!!!!If you think that doesn’t make me SEXY and COOL, DON’T TALK TO ME!!!!! I’m not kidding.”
The image caught the eye of Dulce Clara, 21, a college student in San Marcos, California. “‘Twilight’ will forever hold a special place in my heart because not only did I grow up watching the movies, but it was actually my first teenage romantic movie,” she said, seeing Ms. Rodrigo’s post. , she said, “I immediately fell in love with the shirt 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 he really is one of the funniest people in Hollywood in my opinion.”
Maya Avalos, 22, a Chicago student, first heard about the brand through TikTok and bought a Pitbull-themed shirt, which she appropriately wore to a Pitbull concert. “I love Pitbull, so a shirt with Pitbull surrounded by flames was a must,” she said, adding that she “had never seen a shirt with such a cool sense of humor before.”
Ms. Sinclair’s site is operated through Shopify, where some 1.7 million merchants sell all kinds of goods. The company saw usage surge during the pandemic, when most brick-and-mortar retailers shifted sales online. And it has made it much easier for startups to get small businesses up and running.
“You used to have to buy computer servers, write code, and spend three months to a year” before a virtual store could go live, says Gary Dushnitsky, an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School. “Only large companies, or those who had both foresight and the ability to attract large investments up front, could launch 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 searching for a technical co-founder. Instead, they can use any of these platforms to launch and grow a successful presence,” said Mr. Dushnitsky. This could lead to more innovation and experimentation, as well as greater diversity in terms of who sets up stores, added he added, “including those who traditionally had no technical knowledge or seed capital.”
For Ms. Sinclair, the accessibility Shopify provided was key to getting BUGGIRL200 off the ground. Once it got going, she moved from her parents’ house to her own apartment and turned her full attention to the clothing business.
“It’s still so scary because after all, this is a ‘Twilight’ T-shirt company,” she said. That mild absurdity is also the point.
“I like it when people come to my page and have no idea if I’m a 14-year-old Taylor Swift fan or a grown woman who makes T-shirts for a living,” Ms Sinclair said.