April 12, 2009

Threadless gets Boulder.

Threadless is, like Toms or Apple or Pangea or Whole Foods or….uh…elephantjournal.com, one of those companies that seems like less about bottomline than a 3D idea carried aloft by the enthusiasm of its users.

They take the 2.0 user-generated Wiki mentality and turn it into crowdsourced, artistic, fun, cool tees…and dollars. Read the NY Times article for more.

Here’s a somewhat awkward, refreshingly straightforward, well-edited vid on Threadless’ Boulder office by Somewhat Frank:

Threadless.com Boulder Office Visit from Frank Gruber.

Word on the business block is Threadless is amping up their brick n’mortar retail stores, just ’cause. Excerpt:

On a busy strip of commerce on Chicago’s North Side, the new Threadless T-shirt store is crowded with sporty young women in yoga pants and flip-flops, laughing as they take in the snarky slogans. The most popular shirt right now is a clever number in brown cotton that reads: “Haikus are easy/But sometimes they don’t make sense/Refrigerator.

The 1,700-square-foot store, which opened in September, is the first from the folks behind Threadless.com, one of the hottest T-shirt Web sites. If it succeeds, the 35-employee company will join the likes of clothing startups Lucy.com and Delias.com in moving from online to bricks and mortar. If it fails? Oh well. “We really had no good reason to open a store,” says co-founder and CEO Jake Nickell. “It just seemed like a fun thing to do.”

The story of Chicago’s Threadless begins, appropriately, with a T-shirt contest. In 2000, Nickell, then a 20-year-old studying multimedia and design at Illinois Institute of Art, and Jacob De Hart, 19, an engineering student at Purdue University, met when they entered an online T-shirt design competition. Nickell won, and the pair began exchanging e-mails. In 2001, after working together online on a couple of projects, the duo decided to start their own T-shirt contest and company. They scraped together $1,000 and launched Skinny Corp., parent of Threadless.com. The concept was simple: People would submit T-shirt designs online, visitors would vote for their favorite, and the winner would be printed in limited-edition runs. But the duo kept their day jobs in advertising. Says Nickell: “We had no idea what it would become.”

To build buzz about the site, the two deployed “street armies” to talk up the T-shirts. “Soldiers” earned store credit for spreading the word about Threadless. Upload a photo of yourself wearing a Threadless shirt, and you would get a credit of $1.50. Refer a friend who buys a T-shirt, and you’d earn $3. The top soldier ended up with $33,384 in credit.

A year later, De Hart and Nickell quit their ad jobs and started hiring employees. Sales went from $600,000 in 2003 to $1.5 million in 2004. In 2006 they sold a minority stake to Insight Venture Partners in Chicago and this year added five employees to work in the new store. Threadless plans to open outlets in Boulder, Colo., and San Francisco…for the rest, go to Business Week dot com.

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