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Wednesday, February 23, 2005 | Part of an ongoing series of profiles on young entrepreneurs in San Diego. These two profiles focus on entrepreneurs in the fashion industry. Please

PROFILE: ZACH CRAWFORD, MINDTRIX

Many aspiring designers have t-shirt lines, but few have screen printed images of a four-armed elephant riding a skateboard.

Ganesha, the Hindu god of knowledge, is just one of the icons from eastern religions that make an appearance in MindTrix, a street wear clothing line created by San Diego designer Zach Crawford.

Then there’s the “Buddha is my homie” design, inspired by the “Jesus is My Homeboy” tee that celebrities like Pamela Anderson sported last year. They have a “Jesus is My Homeboy” and a “Mary is my Girl” design, and a bunch of celebs picked up on it for a little bit last year. Basically, Crawford figured, if you can do it with Christian figures, why not do it with eastern figures?

“I felt, why not do plays on eastern philosophy, eastern characters, something no one else is doing right now?” said Crawford. “People touch into it, but no one else had a full-fledged line.”

Crawford, a Zen Buddhist, saw the opportunity to mix eastern thought, western lifestyle and his graphic design background while living in the Bay Area a few years ago.

“At the time, No Fear and all these other companies out there were making t-shirts that were crap and they were selling like hotcakes,” he said. “I thought, if they can do this, I can probably do something.”

And he did. Now, two years after launching his line, Crawford still works on the side to fund his company, and he runs everything from a room in his home. Since he’s only made about $4,500 so far, he relies on savings, his wife’s income and temporary work in customer service and small acting jobs to stay in business.

But between funding and production challenges-Crawford still uses a Tennessee company to print his shirts-he said he prefers the fashion community in San Diego to the Bay Area.

“People there are cool and stuff, but the industry isn’t as giving,” he said. “They want you to learn everything on your own. Here it seems like more of a community. People are more willing to help with things they need, because everyone is in the same boat.”

PROFILE: GARY BENZEL, GREEN LADY & HUNTER-GATHERER

When Gary Benzel opened Igloo in 2001, he welcomed street wear designers and artists whose products were “off the beaten path.”

“At the time we started in San Diego, no one was featuring the type of artist we wanted to carry,” said Benzel.

So he created a place. Half-store, half-workspace, Igloo is where Benzel maintains his own graphics-based lines, Green Lady and Hunter-Gatherer. The store relocated to Little Italy in December, an area that’s slowly becoming home to independent fashion retailers.

“It’s almost like a district,” said Benzel, “with new retailers and people doing interesting stuff. There has been a lot of building and revitalization to the area over the last few years.”

His Green Lady shirts reflect his background in graphic design, with several images based on shadow puppets. Hunter-Gatherer takes much of its inspiration from Hawaiian images and textures, and includes wood and stationary products. Igloo also carries items from several local designers.

While many of the designers Benzel deals with have some background in the street scene, he said he’s seen a lot of genres covered by aspiring members of the fashion industry. It might be easier to make it in LA, he said, but “there are a lot of young people here doing good stuff.”

Simone Finney is a senior at Point Loma University where she is editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.

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