Online Retail: You’re Doin’ It Wrong

When WIRED Magazine coined the term “crowdsourcing” ten years ago, they associated it with Chicago-based business, Threadless. A decade later and the business model of Threadless is still based on technology and art, and the creative collaboration between the two.

Threadless is a unique company in that their products are created by their customers. Artists from around the world submit their designs to the Threadless online community and the best ones are picked to be manufactured, either on their famous T-shirts, or other canvases.

Founder and CEO of Threadless, Jake Nickell, said their business model is personal on all levels. From the artists, to the customers, to the people who work at Threadless, everyone is rooting each other on in the creative sphere.

“A lot of businesses that I see that are starting to use crowdsourcing use a group of people so they can outsource their work whereas our approach is more personal,” Nickell said. “Two crowdsourcing companies can exist with the same technology behind them, but the purpose of why you’re doing it comes into play a lot.”

Nickell started out as an artist himself before he became the founder of the widely successful start-up that was born online. Threadless still thrives in the digital space as a way for artists to come together, ask for advice and share inspirations.

The number one rule of business is knowing your consumer, but Threadless puts the consumer in charge by letting them choose the product. Nickell says what makes Threadless stand out is their approach to the brand…by not having one.

“The unique artwork speaks for itself. We don’t put our brand name on the outside of our products because it’s not about a brand. We are anti-brand,” he said.

He said the consumers of Threadless like to know where the stuff they are buying comes from. Instead of paying to advertise a brand label on a t-shirt, they are paying to support a talented artist.

While the artists come from all over the world, the business is firmly rooted in Chicago. Nickell said it is the place to be for Threadless. One look at its headquarters and you would understand why; inspiration is on every wall, from the outside graffiti to the hundreds of T-shirts that hang from the ceiling inside-it’s a creative space in the hub of one of the most creative cities.

“There is a real work effort here-it’s a lot of heads down, elbow grease and getting things done, but being humble about it. We are about that too,” he said.

Working hard and helping artists inspired Nickell for his latest idea in his business model: artist shops. Launching this fall, artists on Threadless will have the ability to own a digital store of their own.

“They customize the store and come up with the design and artwork, then we manufacture the products, provide customer service, photography mock-ups, etc. It’s basically a way for anyone to start their own brand with no investment whatsoever,” Nickell said.

The technology of on-demand digital printing is letting businesses, like Threadless, take less inventory on products and produce to order like in the case of the artist shops. Nickell said it is digital hitting apparel.

Threadless combines the digital, tech-savvy world with the creative, passion-driven one with a simple business model: helping out others.

“When it comes down to it, Threadless is about embracing art and the art culture in every way possible,” Nickell said.

[Via: The Idea Forge]

About Allison Matyus