Joshua Christopher was working at a Hollywood talent agency by day and going to the UCLA School of Law at night when he decided that entertainment was too "cutthroat" for him.
So he ventured into high fashion instead, and since then, his professional growth has been eclipsed only by that of his tattoos, which cover one full arm and part of his neck, among other body parts.
"When I did my neck, I knew I had to make this work," Christopher said. "I can't go back to wearing a suit."
The fashion industry is notorious for being tough on newcomers but Christopher made success sound easy after starting a line of skateboarder T-shirts in 1997 from his home. Business was steady, but when the drummer from the punk-metal band System of a Down wore one of his shirts on MTV, things really took off. Drummer John Dolmayan had selected one of Christopher's favorites, one with the word "apathetic" across the chest.
From then on, a number of popular rock musicians wore his shirts, and his business was making "several hundred thousand dollars" every year. By 2005, Christopher decided to start designing T-shirts for women.
"I see a lot of these girls wearing basic Hanes T-shirts," he said, "and I thought it was a market that hadn't been tapped into."
When Christopher debuted three shirts at an October trade show and did $15,000 in sales, his company, DaftBird LLC, was born. He's projecting at least $1 million for his first year and so far the company has done about $100,000 in sales every month. The shirts are currently sold in 100 select boutiques, but that number will jump 30 percent to 40 percent with fall shipments.
In Los Angeles, his shirts area sold in Fred Segal Trend, Lisa Kline, Madison and Planet Blue. They've also caught on in Hollywood and been worn by actresses Kate Hudson, Rachel Bilson, Mischa Barton, Jessica Alba and Ashlee Simpson. Now, he's being featured in an upcoming People magazine piece.
Christopher said his idea was to create a T-shirt for women that would be soft and worn, like their boyfriends', but better-fitting. That way, they wouldn't have to "borrow" them all the time. He uses flatlock stitching, which keeps seams level even if the shirt is worn inside out, plus polyester thread so that his white stitching accents stay white. Special washes make them extra soft.
Christopher and his four employees make their own dyes in his studio, so each muted color is unique. The designer tasks his daughter Taylor, 11, with naming the colors. For fall, DaftBird is featuring shirts in sky, coral and banana.
Leah Segall, a buyer for Dari in Studio City, said the DaftBird shirts are selling very well for the store. She chose them for their simple design. "They kind of go back to the basics," she said. "It's a great-fitting T-shirt, super soft. You can just wear them with a pair of jeans."
The T-shirts retail for between $48 and $75.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.