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The crowdsourced t-shirt community

Threadless was one of the first crowdsourced brands, recognising the power and passion of user-generated designs. Voting and limited availability keeps people coming back to the site, from which a vibrant community has developed, engaging people physically and online.

threadless-tshirt-ballinger-mouseguitarT-Shirts are supposed to be cool, and the coolest t-shirts are not made by big companies with corporate logos, but designed and selected by cool people like you. Threadless was founded in 2000 by Jake Nickell and Jake DeHart, investing $1000 of their own money in a website that encouraged people to submit designs, vote for the best ones each week, from which they would then make the limited editions.

Around 1000 designs are submitted each week, and after an initial filter, put up for public votes. The winning designs are sold online, and through the brand’s stores and vending machines. Winning designers receive $2000 in cash a $500 Threadless voucher or $200 cash. Whilst every design has a time limit, with sufficient requests for reprints, the winner could get another $500.

The combination of crowdsourcing, frequent competitions and new editions, creates a 2.5 million-strong community who become actively involved in the brand, and between each other. They are supported by four “community ambassadors” who sustain the buzz and interaction, but also be specific groups. The “Threadless 12 Club” is a subscription-based VIP network with their own ultra-limited editions the annual “Family Reunion” brings people together physically. “Bestee Awards” recognise the best designers by category whilst the “Alumni Club” is for winners to stay in touch. Add to this are customers’ own networks ranging from local groups who meet to share their love of design, through cake-baking and clothes-making based on submitted designs.

Pivot points for Threadless in “changing the game” of clothing retail has been:

  • Design: Crowd-sourced designs through monthly competitions and prizes
  • Resonate: Staying cool and topical through unique designs, with limited life
  • Enable: People take part in submitting, selecting, buying and sharing their t-shirts
  • Mobilise: Building a movement of young designers and brand partners

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