T-Shrits for Sale

One enterprising junior's unique idea to print misspelled t-shirts has turned into a thriving side business


photo by Meg Rees

An unexpected hit, junior Ryan Apel's intentionally misspelled t-shirts have vaulted him into entrepreneurship.

By Somya Thakur, North Allegheny Senior High School

In a building where every club and organization has their own t-shirt, junior Ryan Apel has found a clever way to make his stand out in a crowd — though it must cause endless grief to the English Department.

Apel first came up with the idea of deliberately misspelled t-shirts in September of 2018, while at North Allegheny Intermediate High School.

“I brought up the idea to my friends,” Apel said. “They agreed it was funny, so we decided to be the guinea pigs and ordered the first few shirts.”

Knowing how the shirts caught on at NAI last year, many seniors were excited when Apel decided to make new ones for the senior high.

“I saw a couple of kids wearing them last year when there were only ones for the intermediate high school,” senior Ana Granite said. “I really hoped Ryan would make some for the senior high, and thankfully he did!”

The idea of the shirt is very funny. It’s a unique product that I can’t get anywhere else.”

— Thomas Wang, junior

As the shirts have caught on in popularity at the senior high, many students and staff have taken to decoding the misspellings in search of a deeper meaning.  Yet Apel has no agenda other than entertainment and a little profit.

“The misspelled words are what makes the shirts funny,” he said. “There is no real reasoning.”

Apel’s foray into the shirt business is even more impressive because of the individuality of every shirt he sells. No two of his shirts are identical.

“I’m pretty confident that none have [been spelled the same], simply because there are so many different ways to misspell all the words and so many combinations of those misspellings,” he explained.

The popularity of Apel’s shirts appears, like many high school fads, to be based on a bandwagon effect.

“When a couple of friends and I wore the shirts, others saw them and some of those who saw them wanted one,” Apel said. “I also marketed on social media, mostly using Snapchat to reach more people at once.”

Though Apel’s shirts are something of a sensation at NASH this year, he takes nothing for granted.

“I’m always happy to see that people like the shirts and want to wear them,” Apel said. “That feeling of happiness is sometimes accompanied by surprise like ‘Wow! I can’t believe this little business has actually come to the point that I could probably find at least one person wearing one of my shirts any day.’”

Apel, an avid musician, found his main customer base in the Marching Band, which is the largest in Allegheny County and probably all of western Pennsylvania.

“They’re pretty loyal,” he said. “Many of them have decided to buy shirts for NASH even after buying one for NAI.”

For Marching Band member Thomas Wang, it was an easy sell. “The idea of the shirt is very funny,” the junior said. “It’s a unique product that I can’t get anywhere else.”

As the challenge of meeting student demand has grown more daunting, Apel has recruited others to help to keep up.

“Theo DiBiasi made me a Google form to make buying the shirts easier,” Apel said. “I also have one shirt distributor, Nolan Collery, at NAI if I can’t get it to those students,” Apel explained.

High school lasts only for four years, though, and Apel’s future as a t-shirt entrepreneur remains uncertain.

“I’m not exactly sure whether I’ll keep selling them personally, but I may pass the business on to a younger student at NA at the end of next year,” he said. “Whether or not I make shirts for my college is up to the students at my college. They are the ones who will decide whether or not it’s funny.”

This story was originally published on The Uproar on October 15, 2019.