Penniless no more

Three broke Costa Mesa high school students used their bleak circumstances to start a business at the beginning of the school year — Penniless Clothing Co.

With $750 borrowed from their parents, Alexis Martin, Thomas Khiev and Justin Fisher — all students at Costa Mesa High School — bought a vinyl printer and a heat press to transfer their homemade designs onto T-shirts.

"The first shirts we were ever going to make were supposed to be tie-dye," Alexis said.

"And they just turned purple," Justin said.

"Which was terrible," Alexis added.

After a little more research, the three business partners got their footing.

Their first successful clothes were T-shirts with a simple triangle logo on the pocket.

"We made three, one for each other, and decided we were going to give one away" if they could get 100 likes on Penniless' Facebook page, Alexis said.

"We chose a random person through a website," Alexis said. "The person who won, we made them a shirt and we sent it out to them."

From there, buzz built, with hundreds of people joining their Facebook page to take advantage of future giveaways and students from Mesa and Estancia High School buying the $15 shirts and passing out Penniless-branded stickers.

"We try to make it something that we want to wear and don't let other people tell us exactly what to make," Alexis said, adding that others seem to like them too.

Penniless has developed a skatewear line featuring embroidered beanies, hoodies, baseball shirts and soon-to-come skateboard decks, all sold at


In the space of a school year, the two juniors and sophomore have made about $600 from their sales. The first batch of merchandise sold out in just months, the three said.

The three are reinvesting the money into the business, Alexis said. Eventually, they'll pay back their parents' initial investment too.

"They don't really care," Justin said. "They like that we're doing something with our lives."

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