It’s 4 a.m. and Darren Meenan is awake—not because he wants to be, but because an email from a customer in New Zealand woke him up, and now he can’t turn his brain off.
Meenan, 31, is the creator, owner and mastermind behind the clothing line, The 7 Line, an independent New York Mets-themed brand he created in 2009 in his parents’ basement.
Meenan bleeds orange and blue; his right arm serves as a tribute to his beloved New York Mets. It’s covered in tattoos featuring Shea Stadium, Mr. Met and the train his clothing brand gets its name from, the No. 7 line.
“For the fans, by the fans,” is the motto of his company, which grew from a cramped basement to a warehouse in Jamaica, Queens where he, along with his only part-time employee, Lizy Saroyan, create, print and ship their merchandise by hand daily.
There is no large production line, no glamorous behind-the-scenes operation, just a man with vision and drive doing what he loves.
“It’s kind of surprising that I’m even in business,” Meenan said. “But it’s because the shirts I make touch the pulse of the fan.”
The 7 Line has sent shirts to Met fans all over the country and around the globe. Orders have been shipped to Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and every part of the United States.
Official licensing issues prevent Meenan from printing the word “Mets” on any of his shirts, but that doesn’t stop fans of the team from buying his products. Meenan estimates he has sold more than 10,000 shirts since his website, the7line.com, was launched late in 2009.
Thanks to social media, Meenan has seen his small business grow at a rate he describes as “shocking,” but the groundwork for his t-shirt company was laid out long before he ever printed a Mets-themed shirt.
Meenan knew how to run a t-shirt company before The 7 Line came to fruition. He has printed t-shirts since his senior year of high school, when he and his BMX buddies needed shirts to wear for competitions.
“Instead of paying someone, I just took it upon myself to learn. That’s pretty much all I did right out of high school. I was delivering pizzas, making t-shirts and riding BMX,” Meenan said.
His initial endeavor was called Man Made, and it gave Meenan his first experience with running a t-shirt company. He would later use that experience to create and grow The 7 Line.
Fast forward to 2009. The Mets had a few rough seasons, and on the last game of the year, with the team out of postseason contention, Meenan created a few simple shirts that said “I survived,” and wore them to the stadium.
“It wasn’t even a brand yet and the fans around my area were interested in it, and that kind of just spurred the website,” said Meenan.
The website the7line.com went up just before the holiday season in 2009. He already had the equipment he needed stored in his parents' basement and an idea of how to run a t-shirt business, and so The 7 Line was created at little cost.
“I didn’t really need much to start because I already owned all the equipment, so the start-up for the line was pretty much around $20,” Meenan said.
With no expectations, a website and a print machine in his folks' basement, The 7 Line was born. It wouldn’t be long before Meenan realized he would need more space.
“Once the brand started, I was down in the basement full-time and racking up my parents’ electric bills—these dryers aren’t cheap to run—so things started picking up too quickly where I was down there pretty much all day. You can’t run a warehouse in your basement,” Meenan said.
Meenan moved his operation to a nearby warehouse he shares with other businesses last summer. He’s been there for almost a year.
It’s a busy space filled with machinery and other businesses with their own employees. A passerby would never know what goes on inside, but most importantly, it provides Meenan with the space he needs to run his operation.
After relocating his small business, the popularity of the brand continued growing and orders kept coming in, all without Meenan having to spend a dollar on advertising.
“The fans are my promoters. When they’re wearing shirts to the game and people ask, ‘Where did you get that?’ they say, ‘the7line.com.’ It’s kind of like its own little community within the Mets fan base,” Meenan said.
The brand grew so rapidly that the Mets front office took notice, having Major League Baseball lawyers let Meenan know that he cannot use the word “Mets” or any other trademarks for his shirts.
Even without the team name on his products, fans love the creativity and uniqueness of The 7 Line brand.
Lifelong Met fan Jared Doherty, 22, owns several 7 Line shirts.
“Every time I wear a shirt to the game, people compliment me and ask where I got them. They’re the kind of shirts I would make if I knew how to; they’re for the real fans. I’ve never seen another place carry anything like them,” Doherty said.
You won’t find officially-licensed Mets gear featuring the old exterior paneling of Shea Stadium, or the disguise former coach Bobby Valentine donned after being ejected in 1999, and you certainly can’t buy a shirt that says, “Sell The Team,” in the Mets shop. But you will find them all on the7line.com.
Meenan knows what the fans want because he is one himself, having grown up frequenting Shea Stadium with his mother while living nearby. Both his grandfathers were huge fans, and one worked on the bullpen phone lines when Shea Stadium was built. To say he grew up a Mets fan would be an understatement.
And so, when the Mets family received the tragic news that former catcher and Mets legend Gary Carter’s illness was terminal, Meenan immediately felt compelled to design a tribute logo.
The logo, Carter’s signature No. 8 with a teardrop coming from the bottom, was never intended to be a shirt, but just a sign of support. He had shown it to the people at the Gary Carter Foundation, a charity organization aimed at aiding impoverished children, and after Carter passed earlier this year, they asked him to put out a shirt with the logo. Both sides agreed that all profits would go to the foundation.
Presently, that shirt has raised almost $9,000 for the foundation, with almost $3,000 more coming from another Carter tribute shirt design. Through Twitter, Meenan showed off the shirt to Mets player Justin Turner, who in turn showed his teammates.
Fast forward and Mets star pitcher Johan Santana is wearing the Gary Carter remembrance shirt on television during a press conference, and the entire team is wearing them under their jerseys during a spring training game in honor of Gary Carter.
The shirts became prevalent in the Met locker room and the orders came in large quantities, but this was not the first time Meenan’s work received this level of exposure.
Meenan’s shirts were the subject of many different media from WFAN’s Boomer and Carton morning show, to a feature in The Daily News. Meenan has been interviewed for SNY’s Mets Weekly and has been written about by NBC Sports.
The line’s increasing demand saw Meenan bring on Lizy Saroyan a year ago in a part-time role.
She sits at a desk with an open laptop. There are shirts folded all around, packing envelopes surround her, and she laughs when asked how many shirts she owns.
“I have all the shirts I really like,” she said, wearing a “Believe” 7 Line shirt.
Packing an order is mostly muscle memory for her now, and she jokes she has perfected the art of folding a t-shirt. But like Meenan, she loves being a part of The 7 Line.
“I like seeing people wearing the shirts and asking people how they found out about the company,” Saroyan said. “Being part of a brand and a small operation is what I love.”
The two have been close friends for about 13 years and work together seamlessly. She is the only employee The 7 Line has ever had, and she knows why it has taken off.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Darren’s brain is constantly working. He’s driving in and on the way he’ll think of an idea and he’ll come in and sketch something out,” Saroyan said as she flipped through a sketchbook full of prototypes. “His brain is constantly in motion about what should be the next thing and what the next shirt is going to look like.”
Meenan’s work ethic allows him to think of ideas for shirts and have them ready the next day. When a rookie Ike Davis was called up to the major leagues in 2010, Meenan was wearing a Davis shirt he created before any were available to the public.
“I can think of something and have it on the press the next day,” Meenan said.
The quick turn-around means new ideas are becoming new products available to customers constantly, but that doesn’t mean The 7 Line is producing the typical fan-made heat transfer t-shirts you might find on the boardwalk down the shore. Meenan screen-prints his shirts on high-quality tees to ensure comfort and durability for every shirt he sells.
“I feel like when people get their shirts, they feel the quality and are more inclined to buy another one and come back," Meenan said.
Being the sole printer for a thriving independent clothing line isn’t easy. Meenan often finds himself working long hours, but he’s happy to be busy.
“It doesn’t even really feel like a job. I’ve been printing t-shirts for so long now, and I really truly enjoy doing it,” Meenan said. “It just turned being a fan into a job.”
Meenan understands that t-shirts are a great way to connect with fans like him, and the New York Mets organization took notice.
This season the Mets started a promotion called “T-shirt Tuesdays,” where the purchase of a $20 ticket comes with a different shirt each week.
Upon seeing the most recent lackluster design, Meenan took to his blog and offered some suggestions, such as adding Met colors to the shirt, which was just plain black and white.
Lo and behold, the design for the next T-shirt Tuesday was altered to feature a blue and orange design, and a Mets representative contacted Meenan to offer thanks for the advice.
Even the organization recognizes Meenan’s expertise and knowledge of what the fans want.
Did Meenan ask for credit or acknowledgement from the organization after they followed his advice? No. After the changes to the designs were announced, Meenan took to his blog.
He wrote, “I am not looking to get anything out of this. I genuinely want the Mets to sell more tickets and come out with some kick-ass tees. I’d like to get one myself before the end of season.”
That tells you what Meenan is all about. He is not chasing money. He is not an employee of the New York Mets. He is a fan. He’s a fan who wants the team to succeed, and is doing his part to bring fans together with his creativity and his passion.
A businessman, a fan, an entrepreneur, whatever you want to label Meenan, he will always be synonymous with The 7 Line.
Asked if he could ever see selling his line, Meenan scoffed at the idea.
“No, no way. Being a fan is such a big part of my life I couldn’t ever picture going to Citi Field and seeing someone wear a shirt that said 7 Line on it that I didn’t approve of. It’s my thing,” Meenan said.
It certainly is his thing. With 14 years of experience in t-shirt printing, it is no surprise he has found such success with The 7 Line. There may come a time when he needs to bring in more people to help him and Saroyan (they would have to be Mets fans, obviously), but right now he’s enjoying where he is, and he’s not sure what the future holds.
“I’m 31 now and I’m trying to picture will I be 50 walking around the stadium with people wearing shirts from the 7 Line? I feel like within 20 years if I’m still doing this, it’s got to be pretty big by then,” Meenan said.
“I’m not really sure what the limits are. As of right now, there really aren’t any, so I don’t really see this as being something I’m going to get rid of. How long will I do this? I don’t know, forever? Until I die?” he said with a laugh.
He might not hold all the answers to the future of The 7 Line, but he certainly will be the one leading the way.
Follow Adam Ramirez @NYNJSportsGuy