MONTPELIER — A young entrepreneur had done it again, launching a new business in the Capital City after being inspired by custom T-shirt work for the Grateful Dead.
Hayden Durkee, 25, launched Downtown T’s, a custom T-shirt and apparel store on Main Street on Friday. Durkee says he got the idea for the business while working for Gary McMillan of Montpelier-based Cosmic Cotton, a tie-dye T-shirt contractor for the legendary California band for many years.
“I’ve been working with Gary at Cosmic Cotton for a while and we would do work for the Grateful Dead, and I helped him design a shirt that featured a hand with a missing finger,” said Durkee, referring to the missing finger of the late Grateful Dead guitarist Gerry Garcia. “I think Gary is amazing and I’ve always wanted to open a T-shirt shop of my own for years.”
Durkee’s launch coincided with Friday’s Montpelier Art Walk, and this weekend’s Montpelier Mayfest celebrations. His store opening features a photographic exhibition by fellow former U-32 student Sid Hammer and work by Hammer’s grandfather, a former fellow of the Guggenheim art museum.
Many man remember Durkee for his dynamic business debut when he opened the popular city candy store, Delish, on State Street, while still a 16-year-old high school student at U-32. He sold the business two years later, then spent time working in the Mixing Room, an upstairs aromatherapy division of Splash Naturals, a body care and beauty products business in Montpelier operated by his mother, Kelly Sullivan.
When Sullivan moved her business across the street last month to the former Athena’s women’s boutique on Main Street, plans were already in the works for Durkee to launch a new business in the former Splash space.
Durkee was busy this week, stocking custom-design and preprinted T-shirts, tank tops and onesies that will be the bulk of the business lines. The store will also sell a range of other apparel and accessories such as hats, socks, mugs, magnets, postcards and incense.
But the specialty of the business that is likely to attract the attention of customers is the focus on a costly laser printing press that Durkee will use to produce one-of-a-kind and limited runs of custom T-shirts. He said prices for his and other custom work will range between $20 and $35, depending on the complexity of the design and quality of T-shirt fabric.
Durkee said part of the inspiration for the business was going to a custom design T-shirt store in Burlington, but he was disappointed with the poor quality and limited life of the shirts available.
“I’ve always been taken with the idea of getting designs on shirts, but they would always crack and peel after just a few washes,” Durkee said.
To overcome the problem, Durkee’s research led him to a direct-to-garment laser printer costing thousands of dollars that produces the quality he needs.
“It’s a new state-of-the-art machine that will allow people to come in with a JPEG image from their computer that we process with our machine in about five minutes,” said Durkee. “It lasers the design onto the T-shirt and you can wash it hundreds of times without any problems.
“It’s very sophisticated and we’ll be able to create some amazing designs for customers,” Durkee added. “I chose the machine because I think it’s really important to include the customer in the business. I really wanted an interactive business where people can create their own T-shirt.”
Durkee said he also thought being in the state capital, where there are many social, cultural and political events and protests, would help attract customers for his business.
“We will help to represent Montpelier as the capital city,” said Durkee. “I feel I want to make this business an expression of the area.”
Durkee said he would also be working with local artists — Ali Fisher, Garrett Heaney and Nicole Raymond — to create custom designs, and he invited other local artists to offer their services as well to build a collaborative art movement.
“I’m going to keep reaching out to local artists and pay them a percentage so that I can help them out,” Durkee said.
While artists and customers are in the store they can also enjoy refreshment that includes popular healthy Kombucha Japanese beverages and Vermont-made Rookie’s Root Beer.
Downtown T’s at 68 Main St., will be open Monday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 802-225-6082.