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Student business leads to honors

Around Christmas 2007, Caleb Taplin and his stepbrother, Donny Brunner, discussed starting a business.

They considered various enterprises, said Taplin, an Ellsworth High School senior whose favorite classes are business and accounting. Their original approach was somewhat "seat-of-the-pants," he admitted.

And that seems fitting because they ultimately decided to offer a line of clothing.

"Once it came together, we thought a clothing line would be sweet," he said. "For one thing, you can advertise it by wearing it."

Not only has Clarity Clothing shown promise (nearly 200 sales since they began selling T-shirts a year ago), it's resulted in statewide recognition. The Wisconsin Departments of Commerce and Public Instruction announced last week Taplin has been named one of two Young Entrepreneurs of the Year.

Teacher Amy Krenz nominated him. The field of nominees was narrowed to 100 and then to five. Two weeks ago, a state official interviewed him over the phone.

"I was nervous beforehand, but it went well," he said, noting Krenz listened in and liked what she heard.

Asked how he balances schoolwork with running the clothing line, he told the official he doesn't have much homework.

"Four days later, they said I was in the top two and would be going to Madison," he said.

Clarity Clothing carries three kinds of T-shirts. Taplin and Brunner hope to add v-necks and sweatshirts in the future. They use Photoshop, a computer software program, for designing purposes.

While mostly men buy their shirts, women wear them too, he said. Their customers tend to be younger people, yet the shirts are appropriate for all ages; he indicated Krenz and another of his teachers, Judi Helmer, have them.

"We've opened an online store," Taplin said, envisioning someday expanding what media they print on.

Brunner has since attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and is serving an internship in Boulder, Colo. Taplin plans to be a University of Minnesota-Duluth student, majoring in marketing and business management.