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PROUD to be a dirtbag Upstart start-up clothing company dressed for success By: Debby Morse Of "The Examiner" Staff "Most fashion designers begin their careers toiling in obscurity, waiting for the day they become a ôname.ö Dirtbag Clothing was launched on a name. ôA friend of my brother decided to print up these T-shirts that said æDirtbag,Æ and he started selling them to his friends in Davis,ö says Doug Canning, president and CEO of the tiny ù two full-time employees ù San Francisco-based company. ôI asked him if I could use the name. He said sure.ö No money was exchanged for the intellectual property, but Canning didnÆt rip off his brotherÆs friend. ôHe knows IÆll take care of him when we make it,ö Canning says. With $50,000 in seed money from two investors, Canning started screen-printing the word ôDirtbagö on good-quality T-shirts, then long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts and hats ù your basic skateboard wear. That was in 1996. In January this year Canning, 30, quit his day job because it has begun to look as if Dirtbag Clothing will make it. A few months ago, CanningÆs part-time partner John Alves, 29, also quit his day job and came aboard as vice president and COO ù the second of the companyÆs two full-time employees. Good luck keeps happening to Canning and Alves. When they needed someone to design their Web site, a friend offered to do it for the unbelievable bargain price of $2,500 (compared with a going rate of $50,000). Their graphic designer, introduced to them through a chance encounter at a club, worked for free. TheyÆre beta-testing their e-mail database software for free, too. And now, Nick Graham, Lord of Balls himself, the ôChief Underpants Officerö of San Francisco-based clothing company Joe Boxer, has joined DirtbagÆs board of directors. High friends in high places Canning says he e-mailed Graham out of the blue, proposing that they meet some time to talk about Dirtbag Clothing. ôHe gets contacted all the time, but this was only the third time he ever responded to anybody like this,ö says Canning. ôIt was just after our banner went up.ö ôBest $125 we ever spent,ö adds Alves. For anyone who hasnÆt driven down Lombard Street near Divisadero in the past few months, Alves and Canning are displaying a huge yellow-and-black sign from their roof-top deck that says DIRTBAGCLOTHING.COM. ôHe had seen the sign,ö says Canning of Graham, ôand told us he went æWhat the hell is that?Æö Graham recalls seeing the sign, saying, ôI thought it was a cool name and forgot about it. When I got to my desk there was an e-mail from these guys at Dirtbag and I thought it was serendipity or whatever you call it. I e-mailed them right back.ö ôWe met at his restaurant, Dot,ö says Alves. ôWe thought we were just going to meet his assistant. We talked for two hours,ö ôAnd he said, æSo, do you guys want money, or what?Æ ö adds Canning. They didnÆt ask for any money. Having Graham involved with their company is more important to them in terms of the credibility and connections he brings. ôThis way our footÆs in the door,ö says Alves. ôFashionÆs a tough world to break into. He was, like, æI was where these guys were at when I started out.Æ ö Says Graham: ôI am very pro helping young companies out, especially apparel companies. The business has gotten too boring in the big stores and these new companies need help. I honestly think that a lot of the most creative companies in this country never get a chance because of the ridiculous cost of entry into the big stores. But in the end the stores are only hurting themselves by not paying attention to people who could make a difference for them. So much money, money, money...ö So if itÆs not about money, then what does Graham expect to get in return for lending his name to DirtbagÆs endeavor? ôIÆll get some cool samples for my kids and me,ö he says. ôI like the idea of dirtbag because so many of us are.ö All Images and text Copyrighted 1997-2003 Surfproducts.Com/Dirtbag Clothing Company/The Examiner.