Ten years ago, a guy named Jake Nickell won an online t-shirt design competition. He was so excited about winning that he and a friend Jacob DeHart set up their own online contest, pooling some money to print up the winners.
And Threadless was born.
In the decade since the two Jakes came up with their crazy idea, Threadless has exploded into a huge online design community with nearly 100,000 artists submitting ideas for T-shirts. They’ve gone from printing a few shirts every few months when they could afford it to printing several new designs every week, from a couple guys with a website to Inc.’s “Most Innovative Small Company in America.” They’ve spawned a lot of imitators and Harvard Business School even had an entire class devoted to studying them.
I remember submitting a few design ideas to Threadless five years ago, long before they introduced things like all-over printing, crazy inks, glow-in-the-dark, and so on. (It was also a year before they introduced Type Tees, where non-designers can submit slogans which are then matched up with typography and images.) Maybe if I’d kept at it I’d be a better illustrator or designer by now—many Threadless submitters have gone on to some pretty big stuff, or opened their own T-shirt businesses.
The story of Threadless is a fascinating one, and Nickell tells it—illustrated with plenty of T-shirt images, of course—in a new book coinciding with the ten-year anniversary. Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World’s Most Inspiring Online Design Community is a bit of a pat on the back, sure, but it’s still a lot of fun to flip through. Nickell contributes a brief section for each year, and there are short essays by the likes of Seth Godin, John Maeda and Karen Wong. There are also several “featured designer” bits where some of the T-shirt designers get to talk about their inspirations and techniques. The best part, of course, is the T-shirts. Page after page of awesome designs, often paired with a short snippet of information and the average rating each design received.
Do you need this book? Well, no. For the price you could buy yourself a cool T-shirt instead. But if you’ve been part of the Threadless community, whether by submitting ideas, voting on ideas, or even just buying the shirts, you might find this book as worthwhile as your glow-in-the-dark Tron hoodie.
Stop by and wish Threadless a happy tenth birthday: submit a design, vote on some designs, buy some shirts and check out this fun story about how it all happened.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of the book.