PSFK recently had a chance to speak with Threadless‘ Cam Balzer, VP of Marketing, on the eve of Threadless’ 10th anniversary. While best known as a t-shirt company, Chicago-based Threadless began crowdsourcing its t-shirt designs since its inception in 2000, even before the term “crowdsourcing” was coined. Threadless’ designs are sourced from their ongoing open-call for submissions from a worldwide community of artists and designers. Once submitted, their community of over 1 million members cast votes to decide which designs become Threadless t-shirts.
We spoke with Cam about Threadless’ future plans, as well as how they’re celebrating their first 10 years.
How has Threadless’ vision and marketing efforts evolved over the past 10 years?
Threadless’s marketing efforts were originally focused on generating word-of-mouth conversation – we relied on designers and consumers to talk to each other and spread the word about the brand. We’ve evolved by expanding our focus to include other product lines, via sites like Naked & Angry, where the focus is on pattern designs, or ExtraTasty, where the focus in on beverage recipes. We aim to triple the size of the business in the next 5 years by focusing on deliberate growth opportunities and partnerships; keeping Threadless as the core of the business, and international growth. International sales have contributed to well over a quarter of our business, in spite of a very US-focused site. We’ve now added PayPal and will continue to make it easier for our international community to order from Threadless.
With respect to our vision, one key differentiating factor for Threadless is a cultivation and dedication to our design-based based community. We bring designers and their stories to the foreground, and attach that story to the product whenever possible (a great example of storytelling). We’ve made this a priority during our first 10 years, and will continue to do so for the next.
Many brands are determining whether crowdsourcing can play a role in their business, and how. Are you seeing increased interest from brands in partnering with Threadless?
In short, yes. In addition to our open call for t-shirt design submissions, Threadless also commissions Design Challenges around a particular brief. These Design Challenges give our partners the opportunity to engage with our design community. For example, we’ve collaborated with Mountain Dew (we’ve previously discussed Dewmocracy on PSFK), Havaianas, and Griffin Technology – the later of which resulted in the fastest selling iPhone cases at UK Apple stores.
Brand partnerships via the Design Challenges benefit all parties involved in the collaboration: our partners are given access to our design community, our designers increase their visibility, and Threadless and our community benefit from our partners’ pre-existing production and distribution capabilities. The word gets out with a longer, wider reach for everyone involved in the collaboration.
How will Threadless be celebrating its 10-year anniversary?
We’re going on a summer road tour of the US and Canada, meeting with our community at music festivals, conferences and meet ups. As is to be expected, we’ll be letting our community tell us where they’d like our tour bus to stop. We’ll also traveling with a rolling design studio and art gallery, where visitors can have a go at creating their own designs and adding them to our art gallery walls. The road tour will culminate in a community meet up in Chicago from Friday, September 10th – Sunday, September 12th.
We’re also releasing a 10th Anniversary book in October, covering some of our most remarkable crowdsourced designs, interviews and memories – and contributions from thought leaders like Seth Godin.
You can also expect to see us bringing back some of our most popular designs from the past decade – you can expect to see some Limited Editions tees on sale at Gilt Group, beginning next Tuesday, May 4th.