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October 21, 2004

{     Interview : Threadless     }    

In the everlasting search for the freshest t-shirt that nobody else is gonna have, there is one place where you can always get your fix for limited run tees, and that is Threadless.com. They've got the bestest shirts at the cheaperest prices, and although I've ordered tons of shirts off these guys at the couch-scraping price of $15 each, I still catch myself thinking about doing laundry waaaay too soon so I don't have to wear anything else.

To give you a quick idea of how they work, it goes like this: people like you and me make our designs and then post them on the Threadless site, ready to be voted on by those registered on the site. After a short period of time, the highest voted designs are printed in a limited edition run and sold on the site for lower prices than you will find damn near anywhere else on the web

This idea was hatched by a couple of guys that met on the web, and have since gone on to create not only Threadless, but several other highly successful web destinations under the name SkinnyCorp. We recently spoke with Jake Nickell about Threadless, and a few other surprises they have coming out their sleeves...

Shane: So what was it that lead to the decision to create Threadless? What was missing that Threadless fixed?

Jake: About four years ago Jacob and I met on an online design forum called Dreamless. We came up with the idea for Threadless after I won a tee shirt competition for an event in London. We thought it would be interesting to have an ongoing competition through which the winning designers could win prizes and the winning designs would be our product.

So, how does it go on your end of the voting deal? Are there times that shirts win and you guys just say no? Or at least want to say no? If so, what do you do?

We basically look at the top 100-500 designs every month and pick out 20-30 designs that we want to print. They are not always the top scoring designs but we do use various scoring queries to help us determine which designs will sell the best. For example, users who score a design high and have bought a shirt from us have their vote counted a little higher than a user who has never bought a shirt.

So besides the whole voting aspect, what do you think it is that has set Threadless apart from other t-shirt labels?

I think the main thing that keeps Threadless growing is our community. We have many features on our site that allow people to get involved with the whole process. You can submit photos of yourself wearing our shirts into our gallery, when you submit a design you are sent a submission promotion package with banners for your website and ways to tell your friends about your design. I think these kind of features keep people talking about our site which helps our company grow.

How many different shirt designs have been printed thus far, and how many new designs are you guys usually printing each month?

We've printed about 160 designs in the past 4 years and are currently printing 2 new designs every week.

Since beginning, Threadless has been a purveyor of only t-shirts. Any plans to start printing up other clothing or accessories?

If we do so, it will be through another website. Threadless has been and always will be just tee shirts. The submit / vote / win / buy process is complicated enough so we'd like to keep the project as simple as possible. However, we do already have another project in development called Naked & Angry (www.nakedandangry.com). Naked & Angry's focus is on submitting tiling pattern designs for various products and we are currently printing neckties.

You recently gave away $2500 for the winning tee design in a special promotion, and have now upgraded the prize for regular winning shirts to $400 and $100 in Threadless credit, which is damn nice. Any plans to have another large giveaway any time soon?

We are currently having a giveaway in conjunction with High Voltage Software with some very generous prizes. We do plan to continue to have large giveaways a few times a year.

Threadless has definitely grown by leaps and bounds in the relatively short time it's been in business. What have you done in order to spread yourselves out there? And how have you managed to keep the prices so low in the process?

As I said in a couple of questions before, the main thing that helps us grow is the community. We make it easy for our users to tell their friends about our site and to get involved with the process. This has been a hugely successfull way to grow a business for us and we are very lucky to have discovered this. We love to be able to give designers an outlet to do something constructive with their personal design time and are glad to be able to give large prizes to the winners and to keep our prices reasonable.

How much of the production is done in-house with Threadless? I'm curious as to the amount of work that goes into running such a great company in the day to day.

We fulfill all of our orders in-house and handle customer service. We also obviously handle all of the day-to-day website maintenance and promotions that we are constantly running. We work with a great screen-printer in Chicago (Shirts Our Business) who print and fold the tee shirts. We currently have 8 employees, 4 of which work full-time on Threadless.

So, you guys also are the heads behind Yayhooray, a unique internet forum that some love to an extent so serious that they must never leave their homes, and others hate with a passion known usually only to the devil. The idea being that there is no moderator, as the members can police themselves and each other by using a complex buddy filtering system, this is the most advanced message board I know of. What are some ideas that you guys would like to work into the next Yayhooray revision? Anythings that you don't really dig about the way the latest version is working out?

Ha! ... Well, I'd say one thing we'd like to do is to create a fast, lite version of YH that just allows people to get their fix as fast and smooth as possible. Also, there are parts of the Buddy Content Filter that need some tweaking. It needs to work a little better and make a little more sense to the user...

Want to drop any hints on what we can expect from the next Skinnycorp project, 15 Megs of Fame? Some people say it's a file-sharing idea, others think it sounds like more of a promotional kind of thing, is anybody close to the mark?

It involves music and will be released within a month... Check out the splash page up there now and join the newsletter to be notified when we launch. (www.15megsoffame.com)

Any last bits you want to speak up about, or advice to give? Things you wish you'd known before you began?

Do your research. There are many things we've learned along the way that we wish we would have known from the start. Anything involved with starting your business that you aren't familiar with, talk to someone who is. You'll learn a lot and meet a lot of talented people that can help you out along the way.

To end this proper, why don't you write up the official Skinnycorp or Threadless Top Twelve?

Top 12 Memorable Moments
1. Fulfilling Threadless orders out of my apartment and taking them to the post office on our lunch break at our "real job" for our 1st year in business.
2. Quiting our ho-hum jobs!!!
3. Getting our first office space. It's so much easier getting work done in an office than in your house.
4. Growing out of our first office space and moving into our current space.
5. Building custom desks for our office. Everyone built their own desk!!
6. Breaking 10 employees on our payroll.
7. Jacob and I got matching Jeeps! And lifted them!
8. Fired our first client!
9. Took the Jeeps to Colorado and camped out 3 miles up a nasty off-road trail.
10. The company goes on an insane class V rafting trip.
11. The company goes skydiving.
12. We get interviewed by Crown Dozen!!!!

    » Go buy some shirts at Threadless.com

Comments

Threadless fucking rocks. I'm wearing the OMG WTF LOL shirt right now.

Posted by: Geno at August 2, 2005 7:27 AM

threadless are fucking genius, i mean taking other people's ideas and making mad loot off them in exhange for giving them a few free shirts. i wish i had thought of that. DAMN YOU!

Posted by: Marco at August 7, 2005 12:28 AM

Yeah dude, and paying the designer $1000 is just so fucking crass of those Threadless fucks. What selfish pricks.

Posted by: Shane at August 7, 2005 12:34 AM

threadless!!!

yay

i bought me two shirts the other day they reprinted :]

i was so happy!

hahahha but the submission i scored i diditn even know it was ont ther for a while:[

Posted by: ily at November 4, 2005 4:19 PM

Sweet! More hipster t-shirts! That's crazy awesome cool super radical! Unicorns doin' it! That's crazy ... just... it's crazy! Who'du'thunk that? I need to buy them all.. otherwise people won't know how clever I am! SCORE!

Posted by: Pants at December 5, 2005 6:36 PM

Threadless fucking sucks! I swear to god they pick like MAYBE 1 good design to win and the rest are friggin shit! I see these sweet designs on there that actually took talent/TIME! to make, and they pick a goddamn eagle flying or something stupid like that. It's not fair that designs on there that are so great, and artistic and are never printed. I just don't get it. I know they don't pick on them by the score, because the ones they pick have low ass Scores. I'm so dissapointed in the catalog everytime I look at the new shirts that they are printing. I work at a print shop, and damn I can't believe the shit they print, what a waste of time, money, and talent. Threadles disgusts me, YOU GUYS SUCK! PRINT THE GOOD DESIGNS!!!!

Posted by: Carol at February 12, 2008 9:05 PM

I agree completely Carol. A few months back they used to pint some decent stuff (and even then it was hit and miss) but lately it's been complete garbage and artsy, "look how clever we can be with our play on images..you need to reeeeaaly look at my shirt to understand it...maybe i will explain it to you if you ask me cause im cool". Its a total shame. I see some INCREDIBLE submissions and the things that get printed make me want to gouge my eyes out. If these guys are making money hand over fist now I could only imagine how well they would do if they took some time, picked and printed the good stuff. I'm sure they will keep catering to whatever kind of kitschy, hipster retards keep buying this crap.

Posted by: MAKOOKAM at May 13, 2008 4:50 PM

and yet here we are in 2009. and nobody wants to come up with the idea of just ripping their designs off and reprinting it on t-shirts and selling at a lower price. ops.. they have! long live ASIA! fuck USA!

Posted by: ogen destrogen at October 26, 2009 8:15 AM

no Ogen- China has 0 moral and ethic where the rest of the world does. and it's not "Asia" you ass. don't lump Korea or Japan's reputation in that list of dishonorable degenerate behavior.
so go fuck yourself over your ignorance, singling out one country over pretty much every good country and for the hailing of doing the shoddy business that only a dirty broke ass whore would do. eat a dick.

Posted by: ogen is an idiot at January 5, 2010 7:30 PM
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