LIAM Scanlan was three weeks into a marine biology degree at the start of last year when he got a business idea from his viewpoint as a disgruntled consumer.
“Being a uni student without much money and limited work shifts I didn’t like spending $50 or $60 on a T-shirt,” says the 19-year-old from Raworth, near Morpeth.
“It just seemed like a waste of money and I saw a market for a T-shirt that looks as good but is cheaper.”
Always a back-of-the-class doodler, he began scribbling simple designs for men’s T-shirts, coming up with his brand Eat Your Water on the spot.
“When you are on a wave and get dumped, you can’t avoid eating water, so the name stuck,” he says, adding that his surfing haunts are Nobbys and Bar Beach.
Too modest to rate himself as an artist, he says he’s always been a fashion observer and just “has an idea of what people might like”.
Mr Scanlan initially got his his basic, typically monotone T-shirts – which retail for between $30 and $40 – made locally before switching to a manufacturer in Indonesia to get stock printed faster and more economically.
By the end of his second university semester, Eat Your Water’s following on social media and business promotion juggernaut Instagram had surged to more than 20,000 [it now sits at 28.6k].
“It erupted really quickly, it’s been a shock,” says the low-key teen, adding that the massive growth in his home-grown brand on Instagram has been entirely organic.
“When I first started I had followers from high school but then it just grew from doing giveaways and selling at markets and now I have team members who I give merchandise and they take their own photos.”
With a legion of Gen Y grommet followers, Mr Scanlan loves marketing his business: “I like having people there to share what I’m doing, what my ideas are … you connect with people all over the world.”
Mr Scanlan’s office is his bedroom – he lives at home, is now studying business full-time and is a part-time “check-out chic” – and he sells up to 50 shirts a week, posting out the stock and doing his own book-keeping.
He only prints about 80 shirts of each design and resists reprinting even if one design is wildly popular.
He recently began shipping to New Zealand and the US, is planning a girl’s retail line and hopes to have his stock in local shops soon.
He swapped degrees to learn about running a business and to gain access to mentors.
Not yet rolling in it, he says by the time he finishes university “I’d like to be a household name, with the way it’s gone in the past 11 months I feel like it’s possible.”