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|Headquarters||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Key people||Jake Nickell (founder, CEO)
Jacob DeHart (founder, no longer with the company)
Thomas Ryan (CEO, 2008-2012)
Jeffrey Kalmikoff (CCO, 2003-2009)
Harper Reed (CTO, 2005-2009)
Threadless is an online community of artists and an e-commerce website based in Chicago, Illinois. In 2000, co-founders Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart started the company with $1,000 of their own money.
Threadless designs are created by and chosen by an online community. Each week, about 1,000 designs are submitted online and are put to a public vote. After seven days the staff reviews the top-scoring designs. Based on the average score and community feedback, about 10 designs are selected each week, printed on clothing and other products, and sold worldwide through the online store and at their retail store in Chicago. Designers whose work is printed receive $2,000 in cash and $500 in Threadless gift cards, which can be exchanged for $200 cash. Each time a design is reprinted, the respective artist receives $500 cash.
- 1 History of the company
- 2 Community
- 3 Threadless products
- 4 Printing techniques
- 5 Design challenges
- 6 Retail locations
- 7 Partnerships
- 8 Book
- 9 References
- 10 External links
History of the company
Co-founders Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart started Threadless in 2000 with $1,000. Threadless began as a t-shirt design competition on the now defunct dreamless.org, a forum where users experimented with computers, code, and art. Nickell and DeHart invited users to post their designs on a dreamless thread (hence the name Threadless), and they would print the best designs on t-shirts.
Shortly after the first batch of shirts was printed, the founders built a website for Threadless and introduced a voting system where designs could be scored 1 to 5. By 2002, Jake Nickell had quit his full-time job, dropped out of art school, and started his own web agency called skinnyCorp, with Threadless continuing to build under the skinnyCorp umbrella. The company moved from his apartment to a 900-square-foot office.
A new batch of t-shirts was printed once the previous batch had sold out. In 2000, Threadless would print shirts every few months. By 2004, the company was printing new shirts every week. By 2004, Threadless was big enough that skinnyCorp did not need to continue outside client work. The company moved to a larger warehouse space. In 2004, revenue was around $1.5 million, and in 2006 it jumped to $6.5 million.
In 2008, Threadless was featured on the cover of Inc. as “The Most Innovative Small Company in America.” Though Nickell did not disclose revenues for the article, Inc. estimated $30 million sales and a 30% profit margin. "Threadless completely blurs that line of who is a producer and who is a consumer," said Karim Lakhani, a professor at Harvard Business School who was quoted in the article. "The customers end up playing a critical role across all its operations: idea generation, marketing, sales forecasting. All that has been distributed."
In 2010, Abrams Image published Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World's Most Inspiring Online Design Community, written by Jake Nickell. The book features a decade of Threadless designs, interviews with many of the designers, and a year-by-year breakdown of how the company has grown and evolved.
The Threadless headquarters and warehouse are now located in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. The Threadless retail store was formerly located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.
Threadless designs are all submitted by members of the community, which is 2.4 million strong. Community members come to the Threadless forum to exchange insights, critiques, and ideas. Threadless has four community ambassadors, who help the Threadless staff run community-only challenges and organize online and in-person events.
Annual family reunion
In 2007, Threadless hosted the first Family Reunion to give community members the opportunity to meet each other in person. Anyone is invited to attend the free event and attend workshops, listen to presentations, and meet other community members. The Annual Family Reunion is held each year at Threadless HQ.
In 2007, Threadless also began awarding Bestee Awards to printed designers. Awards include People’s Choice Design of the Year, Designer of the Year, Kids! Design of the Year, Collaboration of the Year, Slogan of the Year, Blogger of the Year, and Scorer of the Year. Prizes have included cash and Adobe Creative Suite.
Threadless 101 is a program that gives professors and teachers a way to incorporate Threadless in their classroom.
When artists get their first designs printed on Threadless, they’re inducted into the Alumni Club. They’re awarded with an Alumni Club t-shirt, mug, mouse pad, medal of honor, and notebook, and they’re granted access to the Alumni Club area of the Threadless forum.
Community-created threadless sites
In 2006, a printed Threadless designer created another exclusive forum for other printed designers. Black Rock Collective, or BRC, is a group of about 50 Threadless artists, illustrators, and designers who come together to share ideas. It is a place for many of these artists to collaborate and critique each other’s Threadless designs. LovesThreadless.com was an unofficial Threadless fan blog run by Chris Cardinal. Cardinal also runs Threadcakes, an annual cake competition inspired by Threadless designs, and Threadknits, an unofficial knitting and crocheting competition using Threadless designs. ThreadStats was once a user-created site where people could browse Threadless shirts by filters, look up submission stats for individual artists, and search for submissions using keywords.
Threadless Meetups Everywhere gives Threadless community members across the world the opportunity to meet other community members in their cities. Threadless organizes Meetup days, sends Meetup kits, and awards prizes for the best Meetups. In 2011, Threadless hosted a Meetup in Hong Kong.
Threadless community members can earn Threadless credit by participating in the Threadless StreetTeam. Each member has a unique URL that can be shared across social media and via email. If a referral results in a sale, the user receives 2 StreetTeam points, which are the equivalent of $3 credit on Threadless.
Community design challenges
See Design challenges.
Most of the items Threadless.com sells are t-shirts. Threadless releases 10 new designs each Monday and reprints more shirts throughout the week. Customers can request reprints of sold out designs on the Bring ‘Em Back page. The cost of a t-shirt is around $20. Styles include men’s tees and women’s tees, v-necks, scoop necks, and boat neck tees. Other clothing includes hoodies and tank tops.
Selected designs are printed on American Apparel kids t-shirts, hoodies, and one pieces. In March 2007, Threadless launched ThreadlessKids.com, a site exclusively featuring these products. In 2008, Threadless Kids! opened its own store front, but it closed in 2011. In addition to featuring the new t-shirts for the week for adults, it had a constant rotation of one pieces, infant tees, and kids tees. It was located at 1905 W. Division St. in Wicker Park, Chicago. Threadless Kids! clothing is still sold online.
Threadless 12 club
Members of the Threadless 12 Club receive a limited edition tee each month for a year. The designs are not sold elsewhere on Threadless.com.
Previously, select t-shirts were designs contributed from Threadless designers who have previously won the main competition four times or more, bypassing the usual voting system, printed on American Apparel t-shirts, with the usual restrictions on designs extended somewhat to permit the use of more colours, foils, and metallics. The new Select line launched in Spring 2012. Threadless Select is a collection of premium Threadless products design by the community and curated by Threadless staff. Select products include men’s hats, pullovers, polos, and t-shirts and women’s dresses, tank tops, and tunics.
Threadless sells backpacks and tote bags featuring Threadless designs.
Comics-on Tees is a t-shirt collection and collaboration between Threadless staff and comic book artists, including Tony Moore and Jill Thompson. Each launch features four tees that tell a story, each illustrated by different comic book artists.
Most Threadless t-shirts are printed with the screen printing technique. Plastisol or water based inks are applied to the shirt through mesh screens which limits the areas where ink is deposited. Threadless printing techniques include gradients and simulated process, UV color change, oversized printing, puff, belt printing, vinyl, super glow, flock, embroidery, suede, metallic, blister, foil, and high density.
Direct to garment printing
In September 2011, Threadless announced Threadless Labs on its forum. Through Threadless Labs, the company will begin experimenting with new products and printing. The first Threadless Labs experiment is Direct to Garment (DTG) printing, a process of printing on textiles and garments using specialized or modified inkjet technology. Threadless now prints four new DTG t-shirts each week in addition to the week's 10 new screen printed shirts.
Threadless Loves are design challenges based around a theme. Prizing for loves can be different, depending on the theme. For example, to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Threadless in 2010, the Threadless Loves Threadless: $10k for 2k10 challenge rewarded a designer with $10,000. Loves challenges can also be partnerships with other companies and organizations such as Threadless Loves Tron, Threadless Loves Sharpie, and Threadless Loves Havaianas. Most partner challenges are now run on the Atrium platform.
In 2011, Threadless launched Threadless Atrium to expand community-based design opportunities for other organizations. Threadless Atrium began with Threadless Causes to promote causes and raise profits for nonprofits and cause-based organizations. Threadless Causes challenges have included the Architecture for Humanity T-Shirt Challenge to raise money for earthquake victims in New Zealand, the Japan and Pacific Relief T-Shirt Challenge to raise money for those affected by the Japanese Tsunami and Earthquake, and the World Alzheimer’s Month Association T-Shirt Design Challenge to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Atrium is also a platform for designers to create art on different canvases. Design challenges include the Griffin iPhone 4 Case Challenge, the Finch’s Beer Can Design Challenge, and the Meetup 2011 Temporary Tattoo Challenge.
Community design challenges
Threadless community members are free to run their own design challenges on the Threadless forum. THREADWARS I, THREADWARS II, THREADWARS III, and THREADWARS IV are a series of Threadless community design challenges run by community member and Threadless Alumni alexmdc on the forum. Designers create a design based a theme chosen by the community, and the designs with the most comments and highest scores move to the next round. Prizing is provided by members of the community.
The Threadless Minimalism Design Challenge and Threadless Minimalism Design Challenge 2 are run by community member and Threadless Alumni Ryder Revolution. Designers create designs based on the Minimalism Art Movement.
In August 2007, Threadless announced the grand opening of a retail store. The Threadless store, located at 3011 N. Broadway St. in Chicago, IL carried the newest two week’s worth of designs. LCD monitors displaid information about each tee that was sold. Customers could also shop the whole catalog at Threadless HQ, located at 1260 W. Madison St. in Chicago. In January 2014, Threadless announced it had closed its Lakeview retail location. 
Blik wall decals
Since 2002, Blik has been creating removable wall graphics. Starting with a design challenge in May 2006 called Blik Loves Threadless, Blik began been adapting Threadless designs for wall decals. Blik sells a combination of new Threadless designs and classic designs. In 2011, Blik released a new line of wall tiles featuring Threadless designs. This new line of patterns also inspired a new design challenge on Threadless. Threadless now accepts pattern submissions through the ongoing Threadless Loves Patterns challenge, which can be selected and printed on Blik wall decals.
In 2010, Thermos unveiled a line of water bottles and lunch coolers with Threadless designs. The products were first sold in Target stores across the United States. In 2011, Threadless began to sell the Thermos bottles and lunch coolers on their own site, making them more widely available to international customers.
Griffin and Apple stores sell iPhone cases with Threadless designs. The artist’s name and quote are featured on the interior of the case. The artwork is applied to the case in a process that’s similar to screenprinting t-shirts.
UNICEF good shirts
In fall of 2011, Threadless partnered with advertising firm BBH New York and artists Christine and Justin Gignac to launch a line of tees to benefit UNICEF USA. The design on each Good Shirt symbolized the type of aid UNICEF is delivering to the Horn of Africa. Prices range from $18.57 for a mosquito net tee to $300,000 for a cargo plane tee. The project was inspired by the artists’ needsforsale website.
In late 2013, Threadless announced their partnership and investment with Tattoodo, an online design community for tattoo artists and designers. Tattoodo provides users with custom made tattoo designs using crowdsourcing.
In October 2010, Abrams publishers released a ten-year retrospective of Threadless t-shirt designs and the company's history.
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- Submitting a Design on Threadless | Threadless.com
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- About the Threadless Chicago store | Threadless.com
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- Threadless to open Chicago retail store in September | The Social - CNET News.com
- Threadless Retail | Threadless.com
- Blik (27 June 2011). "Introducing Pattern Wall Tiles with Threadless". Blik. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
- Threadless book
- Official website
- All printed Threadless Designs
- Better Business Bureau Reviews
- Open Source Softwear, Wired feature
- The Customer is the Company - Inc. - magazine feature
- Threadless on DesignChat - video interview
- Web T-Shirt Company Builds a Community, Business, story on NPR
- 'Project Runway' for the t-shirt crowd, CNN Money
- The Accidental Business: Threadless, 10 Years Later
- The Rise of New Business Models E-Commerce Week