The actor's "Nerd Machine" T-shirts have taken off since the Teen Choice Awards

By Kate Hogan
Updated August 22, 2011 05:30 PM

Kevin Mazur/TCA 2011/WireImage

Chuck star Zachary Levi wants to change the world for nerds. “Really, everybody is a nerd,” Levi tells PEOPLE. “I think a nerd is someone who’s passionate about something. I’m a self-proclaimed nerd.”

So to make life easier for pocket protector-carrying guys and girls, last year he launched The Nerd Machine, a website with goofy videos, message boards and official gear. But it was only when Levi wore two of his Nerd Machine T-shirts to the Teen Choice Awards this month that the concept totally took off. In fact, fans crashed the Nerd Machine site that night while trying to buy the cheeky tees.

So where’d the nerd love come from? Levi used to design apparel for Chuck‘s cast and crewmembers, giving the items as gifts. Soon, though, people outside the show’s circle asked where they could get the ironic T-shirts, prompting Levi to take his talents public. “I decided to make my own brand and call it The Nerd Machine and see if people dig it,” he explains. “And that’s kind of where it came from. I love fun, ironic, cool T-shirts and they’re easy to make if you put your mind to it.” He partnered with Chuck prop manager Dave Coleman, who used to have his own apparel company, and a brand was born.

Since starting with the basic “Nerd” tee, which Levi designed based on “the old Nintendo logo,” the company has expanded to tank tops, hats, jackets, hoodies and even some technology accessories, like flash drives and iPhone covers. “Ultimately we want to make hardware, software and cool video game add-ons and controllers,” says Levi, who counts entertainment and technology among his biggest nerd passions. “I think about where those two collide and where the future of all that stuff is going to be more than anything else.”

Now, Nerd Machine apparel seems to be everywhere, and celebs love it, too. Stacy Keibler, Jared Padalecki, Kaley Cuoco and Olivia Munn (who models the “Nerd” tee for the site) have all been spotted in Nerd Machine attire.

Still, Levi is determined to make the site a forum for people who are, well, nerds. “I want to foster people submitting their own videos, artistic visions, T-shirt ideas, story ideas, video game ideas or technology ideas,” he says. “I would love for people who are nerdy about fashion to come to The Nerd Machine and read about what’s going on in fashion. Who knows!”

–Catherine Kast