- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

While most of his peers are worrying about getting driver’s licenses and applying for college, Tabari Nicholls is winning government awards for his T-shirt design business in Arlington.

Last week, the Washington-area office of the Small Business Administration honored Mr. Nicholls as the most prominent young business owner for the Washington area, which includes the District and Alexandria, and Arlington, Loudoun, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Mr. Nicholls, 18, was one of two contestants. The Washington Lee High School senior started Duck Sportswear in the ninth grade.

“A friend asked me to draw a design on a shirt for him, and I did it for fun. Then word of mouth brought more orders and I decided to make a business of it,” he said.

Now armed with business cards and invoice sheets, Mr. Nicholls charges $15 to $25 for the T-shirts he designs out of his family’s basement.

Last year, he sold more than 40 shirts to students and adults.

He goes by the motto “anything is possible.”

While he draws mostly names, symbols and popular cartoon characters, Mr. Nicholls said he will draw what the customer requests.

“I’ve learned since doing this that you’re always trying to please the customer, so I figure I should be open to design anything,” he said.

Mr. Nicholls said the challenges have been meeting customer demands and balancing his hobby with schoolwork and independent business classes he takes at Arlington Career Center, a vocational school for Arlington County students.

Mr. Nicholls’ father, Moses Nicholls, has admonished his son a few times to stop working at 1 a.m. “I tell him to put more time in his schoolwork, but I know he’s working. It’s hard to be mad at your son for spending his spare time running a business,” he said.

Lisa Flakes Moore, a teacher at Arlington Career Center, said she nominated Mr. Nicholls because of his leadership skills in her banking, finance and investment class.

“Tabari is clearly a leader, and it’s the reason he can manage his own business with school,” Mrs. Moore said.

Mr. Nicholls said he enjoys the extra income but plans to give up the business and become a graphic designer after he graduates June 19.

“It’s a good first job and I’ve learned a lot about how business works, but I want to try for something more,” he said.

Mr. Nicholls lives with his parents in Arlington.

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