August 4, 2011, 11:02 AM

Youngsters make it to the big time in e-retailing

An idea and some help from school give entrepreneurs a chance to make their mark.

Lead Photo

Believe it or not, the brains behind the fastest growing retailer in the Second 500 Guide are a couple of, well, college-aged kids.

Supported by an entrepreneurial program at Babson College with free housing, office space and bottomless cups of coffee, Danny Wong, 19, and Fan Bi, 21, launched custom men’s shirt maker Blank Label in 2009.

The idea actually began with a stroll through the markets of Shanghai. On a trip visiting family, Bi noticed the plethora of custom-stitched shirt makers and thought he might have an idea for a business.  “We thought that it would be a sexy concept to bring back to the States,” Wong says.

The two made a deal with a manufacturer in Shanghai to custom make dress shirts according to each shopper’s wishes. The manufacturer agreed to either ship the shirts to a distribution facility in the U.S., or for a larger fee from customers, drop ship them directly to shoppers’ doorsteps. In the summer of 2009, Blank Label was born—a web-only retailer of hand-made, customizable men’s shirts. Shoppers can choose custom sizes, fabrics, cuff styles, button colors and more.

Thinking they were on to something big with a product that would resonate with U.S. shoppers, Bi dropped out of college to focus full-time on the venture and Wong took a year off.  When the pair realized that it was actually the story behind Blank Label that was really capturing consumer attention, sales began to pick up. “We figured how to sell the story of young college entrepreneurs doing something unique in custom apparel,” Wong says. “It was the fact that we were really young, and we were changing the way men shopped with design-your-own dress shirts, that attracted the media to our story.”

After being featured in The New York Times, Forbes and other publications, sales jumped to $325,000 in 2010, up 7,122% from $4,500 in 2009. Blank Label is No. 995 in Internet Retailer’s Second 500 Guide.

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