The Story of an Accidental T-Shirt Company

The Story of an Accidental T-Shirt Company

People often say 'follow your dreams' or 'I was born to do this' when describing the reasons to start a small business.  Some are started by default, because they're the next generation in a long line of the family trade.  And it's true, cars are in my blood.  But the start of Shamrock Shirts wasn't exactly as inspirational as you may think.

I Am The Stig

Well, I'm not but some say he's the reason I got into t-shirts in the first place. 

Let me take you back to 2006.  The year that the biggest selling car in the world was the Toyota Camry and here in Australia, NRMA named the Volkswagen Polo the best small car money could buy.  Doesn't exactly inspire greatness, does it? Australia has always had a strong car culture, we love our V8s, have spent decades debating Ford versus Holden and have a healthy obsession with all things JDM.  And we were just starting to get interested in a little TV show from the UK called Top Gear.

I have to admit, before I met my Irish husband, I'd never watched a single episode. But once introduced to this weird and wonderful show, which seemed to be based around taking the piss out of bad cars, and each other, I was hooked.  

So being the good wife, I ordered him one of those "I Am The Stig" t-shirts I'd seen audience members wearing on the show.  Of course, you couldn't get them in Australia, and Top Gear UK refused to ship anywhere other than to royal Brittania. Luckily for me, I had the shirt sent by carrier pigeon to my mother-in-law in Northern Ireland, who then sent it on to me.  Job done.  

Little did I know, this one t-shirt would change the course of my life.

Every time he wore that shirt he was stopped in the street by people asking where he got it.  

Every. Single. Time.  

Someone even offered to buy it off his back!  So we started joking about selling it. Then the joking got a little less funny and the conversation a little more real.  I mean, why not?  No one else in Australia was selling them, the official merchandise partner in the UK didn't ship worldwide.  How would Aussies feed their newly found Top Gear obsession without a Stig shirt? So I approached the official supplier in England, who flipped out at the mere suggestion of his shirts being sold in Australia, yelled at me over the phone, called me names and hung up on me.  

Chill out dude, it's just a t-shirt!  

My friends will tell you, the minute you tell me I'm not capable of doing something, I'll start moving heaven and earth to prove you wrong. I made a few phone calls to the BBC and put forward my case.  Evidently they were a little more open minded than their merchandise man, which I have to say is rare for the BBC. So after approximately 64,000 emails and much negotiation, I was given the green light to be the official Australian supplier of Top Gear merchandise. 

Top Gear Festival Sydney 2013

A Small Business in Top Gear

For several years Top Gear was 90% of my product range and I absolutely loved every minute of it. My customers were as car obsessed as I was and were loyal to the cult TV show.

But the question I was asked the most was ... 'do you do any other car t-shirts?'

I had a very small range of t-shirts that were simple, text-only slogans and they were really just an after-thought and nothing I considered expanding on in the future. After all, Top Gear was at the peak of its popularity. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately with the massive following Top Gear now had worldwide, came the decision by the BBC to have the t-shirts made in China. And sadly the quality then became what you would expect from mass-produced merchandise. So I made the very hard decision to step away from Top Gear, and launch my own designs.

How hard could it be?

A Learning Curve as Steep as a Hill Climb

Turns out, pretty hard!

As with any micro start-up venture, you must be a jack-of-all-trades and learn how to do every aspect of the business. All at once. So the learning curve was steep, especially for the software side of the design process. Drawing wasn't something that I'd done a lot of in the past, even though I've always been a creative type person. But over the years I have grown to love the process and these days it's all done by hand using an iPad and pencil, and I enjoy spending hours sitting in my comfy armchair (fighting the dog for space) and drawing cars.

In the early years we spent a lot of time at the race track which was definitely our happy place. We were the first to offer a 'print to order' service at events, where customers could choose a car from our catalogue and have it printed on their choice of t-shirt. While they waited.

This was hugely popular and made our weekends at the track very busy ones. But wow, what a fantastic way to meet our customers face to face. We had a blast.

You could find us at Sydney Motorsport Park (or Eastern Creek to us oldies!) at events like Powercruise, Sydney Jamboree, Shannons Wheels and Muscle Car Masters. And in 2013 our Top Gear legacy came full circle when the BBC invited us to trade at the very first Top Gear Festival Sydney.

The Top Gear Festival Sydney was a massive event held in 2013 and 2014 and these were weekends we will remember for the rest of our lives. My little t-shirt store trading in the same pitt lane as F1 teams, Supercar teams, any number of random celebrities and of course Clarkson, Hammond and May. We were honoured just to be a part of it all. 

Shamrock Crew at Top Gear Festival Sydney

Australia's Biggest Range of Automotive T-Shirts

Over the years I kept working on new designs and adding to the range of products. I like to have something for everyone, no matter what kind of car you drive or what size t-shirt you wear. Customers will regularly contact me with suggestions or requests of cars I don't have, and that's really how the car t-shirt selection has grown to what you see today.

I spent several years printing uniforms for businesses and merchandise for car clubs. As well as a charity range for Beagle Freedom Australia. While all of this was rewarding and kept me very busy, it also took away from the time available to improve and expand on my designs. So last year I chose to change the business model for the second time since we began, and be solely an online retail store.

As Shamrock Shirts moves through its 15th year, so much has changed since our humble beginnings in the spare bedroom of a rental house. And yet, much is still the same. My love for cars and bringing those to you hasn't wavered. I'm still determined to bring you the best quality t-shirts with designs that are sleek and modern. The pressure to change how I do things has been immense over the years, but I truly believe in running your own race and doing what you know in your heart is true to your customers.

So here's cheers to the next 15 years! I can't begin to imagine what they will bring.

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Probably the best t shirt quality wise for both stock and print. Love and care taken.
Well done Natalie.


Great story, thanks for sharing
Great T-shirts, we’ll be wearing ours at Bathurst this year !!

Anthony Smith

Amazing story and fantastic products. I am with you for the next 15 years for sure.Cheers


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