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Two teens launch custom clothing biz in Wantagh

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For Wantagh High School sophomores Cristian Barberio and Dominick Rossi, starting a business was never about the money. “I don’t think we’re really focused on money as much as the idea of doing what we want to do,” Rossi said. “It was almost like proving a point for others too see: If you want to do this, just do it.”

Barberio, 15, and Rossi, 16, accidentally discovered an entrepreneurial opportunity last year, around the holiday season. Barberio used the graphic design program Clip Studio Art to recreate an old engagement photo of his parents, Lucia and Jerome Barberio, for a Christmas present. Rossi printed the recreated photo on a poster board.

“That was the first start, when we realized we could start printing things,” Rossi said. “We were always into art.”

Hanging out at a Wendy’s in January, the two friends talked about starting a clothing company. That evening, they spent roughly eight hours designing a website for Gateway Apparel, their custom clothing company, which in the months since has grown into a booming business. It offers custom T-shirts and stickers and prints customer-requested images. Barberio and Rossi create images using Adobe programs as well as the Wacom tablet program Clip Studio Art. “Everyone heard ‘custom shirts and stickers,’ and it was like a fad,” Rossi said. “Everyone just wanted them.”

Their first sale, of a custom T-shirt and sweatshirt, was to Barberio’s brother, Alex, and his friend TJ Cerasi. When people noticed Alex Barberio and Cerasi wearing them, they wanted their own custom items, Cristian said.

The inspiration for the company’s name? Wantagh, where both students live, is a gateway to Jones Beach.

Rossi’s father, Hank, is a big supporter of the pair. He used to own a printing business, Pixturelt, and has helped the students get Gateway Apparel on its feet. “He got us through the whole thing,” Dominick said. “He put money into it, time into it, [and] the machines for it. It’s practically his company, in a way.”

Rossi and Barberio use a heat press vinyl machine — which presses heated vinyl paper onto an object like a T-shirt — to customize shirts and stickers, and a Cricket cutting machine to cut out the images.

The stickers are printed on sticker paper. The partners buy blank T-shirts on eBay for $2 to $5 apiece, and sell the finished product for $15. A pack of eight to 10 stickers is $10, and an individual sticker is $2. Premade T-shirts with the Gateway Apparel logo cost $10.

“Right now, we just offer the T-shirts and stickers,” Rossi said, “but people can come to us [and] ask us for posters and other small things like business cards.” Over the months, he said, he and Barberio have mastered more techniques, learned how to be more efficient and improved the quality of their products. At first, Gateway Apparel printed simple custom designs, but the partners have advanced to more intricate ones on shirts of different colors.

“We’re focused more on expanding than profits right now,” Rossi said. “We don’t put money into our pockets. It’s always going back into more supplies.”

He said that he and Barberio hope to expand Gateway Apparel throughout their college years and beyond. Barberio said that the buzz about the company remains mostly local, although there have been a few customers from outside the area, including one from Georgia. Sometimes people find the business through social media.

Barberio and Rossi both take Advanced Placement biology, and Barberio also takes A.P. European history. They have other honors courses as well, and next year Rossi will take A.P. graphic design, and Barberio, A.P. studio art. Both hope to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Rossi wants to major in advertising and digital design, while Barberio is unsure of what his focus might be.

After visiting the fashion museum in the institute’s lobby, Rossi and Barberio were smitten. “We just want to be surrounded by that kind of atmosphere,” Rossi said, “where everyone is creative, always doing something new to make a statement and mak[ing] powerful works of art.”

He added that he and Barberio want Gateway Apparel to grow into a “localized Shutterfly” — the wildly successful internet-based company that specializes in image publishing — and print whatever customers want. They plan to redesign their website soon, and to emphasize that the items on display there are only a snapshot of what they can create.

The Gateway Apparel website is www.gatewayapparel.com, and its Instagram page is www.instagram.com/gateway.apparel.