LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — Losing the job that was helping her pay her way through college ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to University of Maryland alum Ali von Paris.
When the College Park bar Thirsty Turtle closed in November 2010, then 20-year-old junior von Paris designed a “Thirsty Turtle Survivor” jersey, posted it on Facebook and tagged several of her former coworkers.
To put it simply, “it went viral,” von Paris says. People she didn’t even know started messaging her to ask how to get their hands on one.
The only problem was, she hadn’t actually taken any steps to have any jerseys made, she had just produced the design.
But von Paris was forced to go into high-gear when she found out an acquaintance was capitalizing on her idea and meeting demand for her design behind her back, she says.
She missed two project deadlines in order to build a website and set up a PayPal account. Her efforts paid off, and she made more than $10,000 in one night.
She came up with the name for the startup, Route One Apparel, while inside a bank on Route 1 setting up a separate checking account for the business.
Fortunately, since von Paris was a finance and supply chain major, both professors gave her project extensions after they learned the specifics of why she had failed to turn in her assignments.
She supposes they thought her personal project was just as much if not more of a learning experience than her class work.
“That was very lucky,” she says.
Soon after creating a website and ordering the jerseys, von Paris started working on additional local-oriented designs and established a Route One Apparel “street team” to drum up more interest in the business.
Now, three years later, you can buy Maryland-themed shirts, shorts, accessories, jewelry and even bathing suits and bras on the Route One Apparel website and in a few local brick-and-mortar stores that carry the merchandise.
More than 50,000 people like the Route One Apparel Facebook page.
If you’ve been to a sporting event in Baltimore or College Park recently, chances are you’ve seen something she’s designed. Earlier this year, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker even put a photo of himself wearing the popular Ravens & Bohs & Crabs & O’s tee on Instagram.
Considering some of her fellow 2012 graduates don’t even have jobs yet, von Paris considers herself to be very fortunate.
“I really didn’t ever mean to make it a big thing, it was all kind of by accident,” she says.
A happy accident, of course.
The first person in her immediate family to go to college, von Paris had a middle class upbringing.
Now that her business has taken off, she’s been able to help her parents out, she says.
In exchange, they let her use their home in the Baltimore suburbs as the Route One Apparel headquarters. She hopes to eventually expand beyond her business beyond her parents’ basement, and beyond her home state.
“My goal eventually is to have something … in every single state,” she says. “Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done.”