The TikTok opens with a piece of paper — a packing slip from custom T-shirt company Nice Shirt Thanks with the surreal prompt "I like hedgehogs but I also have borderline personality disorder."
The camera pans to the right, and there's a T-shirt with an illustration of a sweet-looking swimming hedgehog, surrounded by the words, "I can't drown my demons. They know how to swim."
It's one of many videos on the app of happy customers receiving shirts from Nice Shirt Thanks, a company run by two best friends who never expected their business would blow up like it has. Due to popular videos revealing their designs, they've been selling out their daily limit since launch and are grappling with how to meet the insatiable demand.
Started by 18-year-old Mason Manning and 21-year-old Hayden Rankin, the idea of Nice Shirt Thanks is simple, but clearly irresistible. You send them a short statement of what you want on the shirt — maybe a phrase, some facts about yourself, or things you like — and they interpret that however they want to design a one-of-a-kind T-shirt.
Like a reassuring Harry Styles.
Or a clown cat with a Twilight quote.
No matter the prompt, you get something hilarious with ample irony thrown in.
The company's name came from something Manning said in a phone conversation with his friend and business partner.
"He was just saying that 'Oh, I want people to look at the shirt and be like, Oh, that's a nice shirt. Thanks,'" Rankin told BuzzFeed News. "I was like, 'That's the one. That's the name.'"
Really it all started because the pair, who've been best friends since grade school, wanted to raise enough money to buy a school bus and refurbish it for road trips. They had the idea of custom shirts and spent four months coming up with the business plan before they launched last November. Immediately, they sold out.
Rankin said he remembers it being 3 a.m. on Nov. 27 and Manning's phone ringing over and over with order notifications from Shopify.
"We couldn't go to sleep because we're like, This is working out. This is actually happening," he said.
The original plan was for Manning to design the T-shirts and run their one-press operation in his basement while Rankin finished up college. That didn't quite work out.
They've now upgraded to two presses and a rotating cast of friends and family who help out. Since launching, they've had more than 21,000 orders and are still catching up, with turnaround time now at four to six weeks. They had to implement a daily cutoff of 150 orders, which Manning said sells out in minutes after their nightly reset.
They also had to ditch the idea of Manning doing all the design work. They've now recruited more than 300 designers and illustrators who get assigned shirts for $5 each. The fee has been criticized in their TikTok comments, with some people saying the fee is too low.
"They're clearly worth more than that. Thing is we're still clearing out the orders that we sold for $22 right now," Rankin said. The shirts were $20 at launch, but since then the company has raised prices to $24.99 for a T-shirt and $29.99 for a long-sleeve shirt, which Rankin said is letting them pay their artists.
"We're reading the comments. We're reading what people are emailing us. We want to raise the prices. Profit margins just won't let us right now."
It's all happened thanks to TikTok. They don't do any traditional marketing, just tweeting the word "business" once per day on Twitter, and responding and commenting to TikToks of people receiving their shirts.
"That was our main strategy, having the customers basically help promote it, and help share and just spread the business around," Manning said.
"I just sit on my phone and just watch people reactions them. Honestly, because it makes my day. That's the best feeling," Rankin added.
As for the future, they have a pile of orders to finish before they can do anything else, but after that, the sky's the limit.
"Turning this shop into a brand is this summer's goal," Rankin said.