On a 17-mile bike ride to work in 2007, an idea struck screen printer Adam Enfinger. Call it a $350,000 idea.
A few weeks earlier, his car had broken down (his wife Coryn’s car had also died that same month). The Enfingers were a young, broke married couple who just had their first baby. Buying a new car was out of the question. But the cheapest road bike at Walmart? Adam could afford that.
With his new GMC Denali, Adam started cycling from a bungalow in Seminole Heights, Florida, to a screen-printing job in Oldsmar, Florida. He even started to enjoy it. Sort of.
On his commute one day, Adam saw some school kids bolt across the road.
“What are they running from?” Adam recalls asking himself. “That’s when I had the image of a shark — or a whale — on a bicycle chasing them.”
The reality? It was a track team. But the idea stuck with him: Animals on bicycles.
So Adam put pencil to paper. His designs always start on paper. Think manatee on a fat-tire or sloth on a 10-speed. These designs later skyrocketed the Enfiger’s screen printing business, Dark Cycle Clothing, to the No. 3 hand-made clothing store on Etsy, reaching audiences all over the United States. Even Canada and England want in on the bicycling beasts.
But it would take a little while for that design epiphany to materialize into a burgeoning business.
The Origins of Dark Cycle Clothing
Adam, 35, and Coryn, 32, have always been artistic. They both played in garage bands during their high school and early college days, which led to a foray into screen printing back in 2002.
“We were high school sweethearts, and we were crazy punk rock kids,” Coryn says. “At first, we would design up shirts and get them screen printed by local screen printers.”
But the Enfingers never thought they would own a screen printing business themselves — let alone one with international reach that rakes in $350,000 annually.
Before launching Dark Cycle Clothing in 2009, they took on odd jobs to make ends meet. For a while, Coryn was an esthetician and Adam was a diesel mechanic before managing a separate screen printing shop in Oldsmar.
Adam, who began learning to screen print at 15, is an artist at heart, and he took the gig in Oldsmar because it gave him a creative outlet. During breaks, he would screen print his own designs.
Perhaps being on a bike for 34 miles a day seeped into his creative process. Over time, his sketches changed from punk band logos to bicycle designs. And people started to take notice.
Passers-by would fawn over Adam’s screen-printed tees and — after their first daughter was born — onesies.
“Where’d you get that?” they’d ask.
“Oh, I made it,” he’d say.
How a Hobby Became a Flourishing Full-Time Career
In 2008, a friend convinced the Enfingers to compile some of their clothes and art to make a booth for a fashion show.
The venue was a Soviet Russia-themed nightclub named Czar in Ybor City, Florida — a place known more for its gritty nightlife than boutique shopping.
But the Enfingers were game anyway. They set up shop “in a dark, dank corner” of Czar with some freshly printed shirts and handmade steampunk-themed jewelry.
“We sold maybe two necklaces,” Adam says, but people kept praising their shirts.
With the surplus products from the fashion show, Coryn created an Etsy store to pawn off the leftovers.
“That’s when things really took off for us on a global scale,” Coryn recalls.
Their first T-shirt sale on Etsy? A giraffe on a tall-bike.
The online store soared in popularity and became the couple’s full-time career in November 2009.
At first, they handled everything themselves: online orders, packaging, shipping, customer service, photography and, of course, the screen printing. By this time, the Enfigers had two children, so it’d be a gross understatement to say that they were overwhelmed.
“We were so busy. We grew really fast,” Coryn says. “I sometimes feel like we’re still catching up from the growth in the beginning because we didn’t start with a plan.”
“It took three or four years for us to really believe it was going to be our career,” Adam adds.
The upside of starting their business on Etsy is that there was little overhead. Coryn says Dark Cycle Clothing was profitable “right off the bat.”
Since the launch, the Enfingers have moved to Wesley Chapel, Florida, to accommodate their burgeoning business (and a third child). Along the way, they hired someone to help with photography and customer service so that Coryn can focus on business logistics while Adam screenprints in their garage.
Coryn says the additional employee has been “a game changer.”
For diving full-force into a screen printing business as new parents you might call the Enfingers fearless. But there was something about that dud of a night at Czar that left them hesitant to jump into the indie market scene.
For years, Adrien Lucas, 50, asked Dark Cycle to join her market, Atomic Holiday Bazaar, in Sarasota, Florida. Lucas saw Dark Cycle’s apparel trending on Etsy, loved it and reached out to the Enfingers directly.
“I courted Coryn for probably three years,” Lucas says.
But every time she asked, hammer-and-sickle flashbacks kept the Enfingers from accepting.
In the summer of 2011, Etsy directly encouraged the Enfingers to join its inaugural Tampa anniversary market, so they decided to wade back into the market waters. While the event itself was wildly successful — the fourth most popular Etsy market nationwide — the boothing experience, again, left the couple underwhelmed.
Finally, Lucas gave them one last push: Come down to Sarasota. Set up shop. Get money.
“You’ll make thousands and thousands of dollars,” Lucas goaded them.
And when she put it that way, how could Coryn and Adam resist?
This time was going to be different. They had a game plan, too.
Armed with a few clothes racks from Target, some PVC piping, a rug, cardboard for the sign, a mirror and a chair, Coryn and Adam were determined to deck their booth out for the Sarasota market.
“We set it up like we would set up a store that was 12 by eight feet,” Coryn says. “We made it feel like a boutique.”
And this time, the attendees were indeed a shopping crowd.
“[Lucas] definitely didn’t oversell herself,” Coryn says. ”People were so receptive.”
Even down in Sarasota, population around 55,000, Dark Cycle Clothing had fans waiting for them. At that point, Dark Cycle was solely an online endeavor.
“So it was really nice to have that face-to-face with our customers and to see people’s faces light up at the art,” she says.
Markets now generate about a third of Dark Cycle’s revenue. The company frequents flea markets in the Tampa Bay area, especially Tampa’s Indie Flea, St. Pete’s Indie Market — and the Atomic Holiday Bazaar, of course.
Occasionally, the Enfingers will travel outside of Florida with Markets for Makers, which treks its way to Indianapolis and Nashville. But Coryn and Adam like to keep it local for the most part. That helps cut down on travel costs, too.
Back in their stone-studded home, tucked in the gator-logged marshes of rural Wesley Chapel, Adam still screen prints the shirts himself. He’s thankful for many things — mostly the easier commute. Now, he doesn’t have to dodge angry drivers who try to hit him while biking to work.
“People like to do that to cyclists for some reason,” Adam says.
These days, he only dodges three children and two pups during the commute across the kitchen to his garage-turned-workshop.
Adam Hardy is a reporter, editorial assistant at Codetic. He lives off a diet of stale puns and iced coffee. Read his full bio, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.