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June 2, 2008


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Here's a NoVa tech company that doesn't seem so techy: It helps you design your own T-shirts (and other apparel) online, and is now doing it on a huge scale. CustomInk.com, headquartered in Tysons, ships about 5 million T-shirts and other custom items per year to the tune of $50 million revenue. As those numbers suggest, and as founder Marc Katz told us, custom apparel has gone way beyond outfitting the company softball team.


At 31, Marc's already been President for eight years, during which time the company's grown to 190 employees and is looking for more. It recently unveiled direct-to-garment printing, which allows users to design their own custom tees with no minimum order (perfect for singletons). To accommodate more volume, they plan to move their Sterling-based production to a larger site in Manassas. CustomInk's aggressive use of Ruby on Rails, an open-source web app development framework, also makes it popular among software engineers passionate about the platform.


Marc just finished reading The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy, a look at globalization via the round-the-world odyssey of a T-shirt. While many websites feature customer comments, Marc's firm is one of the few to post all of them, good or bad. He says the move is part of CustomInk's pattern of giving power to customers, including tools to become their own designer. The feedback inspires confidence, and the website's intuitive format makes it easy to upload any graphic, text, or logo. (Although trained agents are standing by for those of us not yet ready to play Project Runway.)


This isn't Marc plugging for PETA; he just went a little Dada. The art was his contribution to team-building events to showcase the staff's many talents. ("Talent" used liberally here.) But forget the poster, Marc's finest new project is his infant daughter. Over the holidays, he and his wife set out on an East-Coast tour to introduce their new baby to the family, and, of course, passed out souvenir tour T-shirts along the way. So are T-shirts all his relations can expect when it comes to gifts? "No.  I gave all my groomsmen zipper sweatshirts."

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