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To a Tee

Saucy shirts are a smart--and hot--statement.

They're everywhere, from the "Save the Drama for Your Mama" T-shirt that Rachel wore on Friends to the "I'm a Carrie" tees inspired by Sex and the City. T-shirts that make a statement or hit a cultural or political nerve are big. To make a statement, you have to be unique and current. Don't hop onto fads, says Sharon Haver, founder and style director of FocusOnStyle.com, a fashion and trend information Web site. Haver suggests, "Take something in the news-if you say something political or newsworthy, you'll have a longer life span." Here are three tee businesses that have made it onto the radar:

Rabbi's Daughters: Founded by sisters Nina Bush, 37, Myla Fraser, 34, and Daniella Zax, 32, in the summer of 2003, these Culver City, California, entrepreneurs hit it big right away. Shirts with Yiddish words on them like mamaleh (darling mother), oy vey (woe is me) and shiksa (non-Jewish girl) are jumping off shelves and onto the bodies of stars like Madonna. Zax, with a background in fashion, got the shirts into a few high-end Los Angeles boutiques-after they were featured in a People magazine article, the line took off. Now, they have jewelry and kids' lines and other Yiddish-word apparel, as well as 2004 sales projections in the high six-figures.

Mirror Me: Founded by Jennifer Petsu, 32, these shirts are meant to inspire young women. Phrases like "Love Yourself" and "Never Settle" are printed backward on the shirt-so when the wearer looks in a mirror, she gets an instant uplift. Starting in 2002, this Chicago entrepreneur got into some local high-end boutiques and started getting press. She then displayed her shirts to celebrities backstage at the MTV Movie Awards and had the chance to talk to actress Shannon Elizabeth, who already owned one. Now, not only is her line popular among the Hollywood set, but she also donates part of her proceeds to charities, focusing on women's charities. With 2004 sales in the $200,000 to $275,000 range, it seems the image is all positive.

YouHateMyShirt.com: Founded by Chris Haas, 39, and Mike Santoro, 31, of Buffalo, New York, these shirts run the gamut from "Religion+Government=War" and "I Can't Be Bothered With You." Meant to garner attention for the wearer, they started selling online in 2001 to the hip, concert-going crowd. While Santoro notes it's a challenge to thrive in the crowded T-shirt market, he keeps the company fresh with constant new one-liners. "In bed at night, my mind swirls with ideas," he says. Santoro and Haas hope to reach $75,000 in sales and to move full steam ahead in 2004, transitioning from part time to full time, launching a new line, and continuing a rollout into the wholesale market.

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This article was originally published in the August 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: To a Tee.

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