Before 2020, Madison Sinclair hadn’t seen any of the “Twilight” movies. But after watching all five during quarantine, she grew completely enamored — and inspired to express her new fandom.
“I wanted to make 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, created using a clothing customization website, with the sentences “Bite me, big boy!” and “I love my vampire boyfriend” flanking a photograph of Robert Pattinson, the films’ male lead. 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 was like, ‘They have to be kidding. This is the most random, specific T-shirt ever. Why are so many people into this?’” Ms. Sinclair said.
She started selling them on Depop — a site often used to list “pre-loved” items — but realized, after receiving nearly 80 requests in her first day, that she’d need to scale up. So, she bought a web domain, BUGGIRL200.com (after her TikTok user name), and built her own online store. She has since sold more than 15,000 shirts, each of them reflecting tongue-in-cheek nostalgia for cultural touchstones from the last 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 turned the business into her full-time job.
“I owe my whole current life to that TikTok,” Ms. Sinclair said.
Her work has not gone unnoticed by the celebrity class: Olivia Rodrigo, for instance, tagged her friend Iris Apatow — daughter of Judd — in a photo on Instagram of a BUGGIRL200 original that reads as follows: “I think the Twilight movies are AWESOME!!!!! If you don’t think that makes me SEXY and COOL, DON’T FREAKING TALK TO ME!!!!! I am not even kidding.”
The image caught the eye of Dulce Clara, 21, a student in San Marcos, Calif. “‘Twilight’ will forever have a special place in my heart because not only did I grow up watching the movies, but it was actually my first teen romance film,” she said. When she saw Ms. Rodrigo’s post, she said, “I instantly fell in love with the shirt and bought it.”
Cece Gude, 25, a musician from Miami, owns the Adam Sandler and Michael Cera shirts; she wears one almost every week. “He’s my favorite actor,” she said of Mr. Sandler, “and he’s genuinely one of the funniest people in Hollywood, in my opinion.”
Maya Avalos, 22, a student from Chicago, first heard about the brand through TikTok and bought a Pitbull-themed shirt, which she wore, aptly, to a Pitbull concert. “I love Pitbull, so a shirt with Pitbull surrounded by flames was a must,” she said, adding that she’d “never seen a shirt with such a cool sense of humor before.”
Ms. Sinclair’s site is run through Shopify, where some 1.7 million merchants sell all kinds of goods. The company saw usage grow during the pandemic, when most brick-and-mortar retailers shifted sales online. And it has made it much easier for upstarts to get small businesses up and running.
“Back in the dot-com days, one had to buy computer servers, write code and spend three months to a year” before a virtual store could go live, said 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 raise large upfront investment, could launch and grow a virtual presence.”
Today that’s no longer the case because of 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 leverage any one of these platforms to launch and grow a successful presence,” Mr. Dushnitsky said. This can lead to more innovation and experimentation, as well as increased diversity in terms of who sets up shops, he added, “including those who traditionally did not have technical knowledge or initial capital.”
For Ms. Sinclair, the accessibility that Shopify provided was key to getting BUGGIRL200 off the ground. Once it was up and running, she moved out of her parents’ home into her own apartment and turned her full attention 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 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 an adult woman who’s making T-shirts for a living,” Ms. Sinclair said.