People to Watch: Dustin Kuhn and Zachary Traxler

From the 08/03/2011 edition

Zachary Traxler and Dustin Kuhn are quick to point out that many people helped launch The Shop, a storefront partnership between screen-printing Traxler Tees and Richie Raygun Designs, the design firm behind Make Believe Monsters.

And while there would be no business without all that work behind the scenes, perhaps the most notable element of the partnership's success has been the way Traxler and Kuhn have tapped directly into the community. Lots of companies make cool T-shirts, but few are quite so populist about it.

Traxler and his wife, Erin, started Traxler Tees last fall, performing live screen printing at festivals, concerts and other local events. Traxler's history with T-shirts dates to childhood; his father, Ron Kaplan, started the popular T-shirt brand Surf Ohio in 1978. Traxler and his dad revived the brand two decades later, inspiring Traxler to found a flexible, customer-focused screen-printing company.

"We've taken stuff from napkins and turned it into epic T-shirts," Traxler said.

Kuhn got into the T-shirt game when his friend Richard Rayburn approached him with the idea for Make Believe Monsters, a T-shirt line featuring Rayburn's quirky creatures.

Kuhn took Rayburn's designs and ran with them, bringing Make Believe Monsters to festivals like Urban Scrawl and Independents' Day and designing custom monster tees for local bands (Karate Coyote) and businesses (Alive). A direct link into the music scene has been crucial.

"I like to think that the little monsters behind the scenes of Make Believe Monsters," Traxlersaid, "all they really want to do is jam out all day."

Things have only accelerated for both businesses since Small Business Beanstalk's Timothy Wolf Starr suggested they join forces. Now they're approaching the tough task of expanding their customer-centric focus nationwide.

"Doing business the right way - that really got us to where we are," Kuhn said. "Every person is special."