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Young entrepreneurs launch T-shirt enterprise

Tigard High students transform business class into profitable company

Zack Dean, 16, and Henry Ammann, 17, are two members of You Pickpocket, which launched this summer.Mounted on the wall at You Pickpocket's world headquarters in Tigard is a Nerf-brand toy gun. On another is a miniature basketball hoop, dubbed the “Sales Slam.”

“That’s for when we get a lot of orders,” said CEO Zack Dean on a recent tour.

Dean, 16, is part of a four-man team of Tigard High School students behind the fledgling T-shirt company, which launched this summer.

The company makes graphic T-shirts, fusing colorful designs — from suit-wearing raccoons to Portland International Airport's ubiquitous carpet pattern — onto shirt pockets, which it sells online.

The company has caught on around Tigard High School largely through word of mouth. In recent weeks, the company has received orders from outside the school’s community, as far away as Washington, California, Chicago, and even Australia.

Dean, a member of Tigard High’s Future Business Leaders of America club, was inspired to start the company after traveling with the club to Nashville, Tenn., last year for a competition.

“There was a guest speaker there who said, ‘You’re young, go for it,’” Dean recalled. “He said, ‘You don’t have a house payment, and you won’t lose anything.’ We’re 16 and 17 years old. We don’t have to worry about being successful enough to pay rent right away or put food on the table.”

(Image is Clickable Link) You Pickpocket shirts are available online at youpickpocket.comThey began making shirts and selling them to friends around campus, but it didn’t take long before they realized they were growing.

“We thought, ‘How far should we take this?” said the company’s designer Harry Ammann, 17. “How far do we want to go? And we started planning.”

The friends pooled their money and collected $1,000, then approached their parents with a “Shark Tank”-style sales pitch.

“They became our first investors,” Ammann said. “They are our board of directors.”

Starting a business isn’t typical for most kids their age, but Dean said it just makes sense.

“It’s about the experience, more than any money we make,” he said. “When we’re 26 and graduating from college, we’ll still be young, and we’ll already have 10 years of experience under our belts.

“Other people will be just starting their own business, and we’ll be 10 years ahead of them.”

An office of their own

The company has turned a profit, Dean said, — the young entrepreneurs made back their $1,000 investment in the first two weeks — but rather than pocket the money for themselves, Ammann said they invested everything they made back into the company.

“We’d rather take the money we make and put it into the business and be able to do something cool with it,” he said. “We could go to the movies and spend $10 at Qdoba, or we could say I made this shirt. That’s much better.”

The company is small — 25 shirts is a large order, Ammann said, — but the organization has plenty of room to grow.

“If we want this to be a big deal, that can be something in the future,” he said. “It could turn into a career for us, which would be really cool. That’s what we want to have is a career that we like and have a passion for.”

For now, the company’s goals are simple.

“My biggest dream is having a small office of our own,” Dean said. “Whenever we go by new buildings or I see an office space with a for lease sign, I think, ‘One day, I’ll be there.’ I’ve always wanted something like that.”

The group has also partnered with the Caring Closet, the nonprofit group that donates clothes and necessities to needy children across the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

“When people buy a shirt, they can take in shirts they don’t want and donate them to the Caring Closet,” Ammann said. “We’re putting a shirt into the world and taking some back to be recycled.”Henry Ammann, 17, is the company's chief design officer. He said he hopes the business can continue to grow through college and beyond.

‘Nothing like life experience’

The students’ teachers at Tigard High School couldn’t be happier.

“They’ve taken to heart what we have been talking about,” said Tigard High business teacher Sue Suttich. “They came to school and said, ‘Guess what I did this summer? I started a business.’”

Suttich — one of the company’s first customers — has worked at Tigard High for 18 years, and said it’s uncommon for business students to start companies so young.

“They have just ran with it — it’s been awesome,” Suttich said. “It’s fun to see them be passionate about doing this. I’ve given them recommendations on businesses cards and tests products. It’s fun to work with them on it.”

Suttich said the fledgling businessmen have a lot still to learn, but the experience will be a great one for them.

“The sooner you get started, the better,” Suttich said. “There is nothing like life experience to teach you. You feel like these business classes are relevant. Kids can see the connection with what’s next.”

“We wear our shirts at least a few times every week,” Ammann said.

Pickpocket has caught the eye of local print companies in town, which have offered to show the kids how their business works.

“We’re learning and getting experience,” Ammann said. “We have lots of friends and teachers supporting it.”

Spreading the message

Zack Dean, left, and Henry Ammann put the finishing touches on a new shirt for You Pickpocket, the business they formed earlier this year. Both are students at Tigard High School, and plan to grow the business well into college.You Pickpocket isn’t alone. The Tigard area is home to several entrepreneurs, including Wild Friends Nut Butter, a company started by Tualatin natives Erika Welsh and Keeley 

Tillotson, who started the business out of their University of Oregon dorm room.

Ammann plans to attend the University of Oregon next year, and Dean is already beginning to look at colleges.

“I plan to spread it even more when I get to (Eugene),” Ammann said. “We can grow the brand and get even more exposure.”

Dean hopes to someday bring the company to a retail store near you, but said that for now, he’s happy with it being an after-school hobby.

“It’s fun for us,” he said. “We really like it, it isn’t a job.”

And even if the business doesn’t last, Ammann said, it still gives them plenty of life lessons to take to future careers.

“I can look back and say that I started my own company when I was a teenager, with some friends,” Ammann said, “How cool is that?”

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