Want to get a say and vote for your favourite T-shirt or fancy designing a T-shirt for the whole community ? Look no further! Threadless is what you are looking for!
Or if you have never heard of this company, click the play button quick to hear what you have missed:
If that is not impressive enough for you, you may also need to know that this company has achieved phenomenal growth with the user base grew tenfold, from 70,000 members at the end of 2004 to more than 700,000 today. Threadless sold more than $30 million in T-shirts last year despite the fact that the company had never advertised, employed no professional designers, used no modeling agency, no fashion photographers, had no sales force, and enjoyed no retail distribution!? (O’Dell, 2011)
How do they do that? Threadless’s key strategy is using social marketing to promote its business and to generate sales!
Threadless has built its reputation over the last decade on being a community-oriented business, an online apparel store founded by Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart in Chicago in 2000. Its business concept is simple: Customers design, vote on and then buy the shirts they want.
Threadless’s design competitions are run on an online social network, where hundreds of thousands of people are using the site as a kind of community center to blog, chat about designs, socialize with their fellow enthusiasts.
Members of the network submit hundreds of ideas for T-shirts each week, and then put to a public vote on which ones they like best. A small percentage of submitted designs are selected for printing and sold through an online store. Creators of the winning designs receive a prize of cash and store credit.
At first, artists whose T-shirts were selected were rewarded small cash prizes, which was $100 initially per winning design, then increased to $2,500, plus reprint fees. But it is never about the money but it is how cool to get your shirts printed that attracts artists.(Burkitt, 2010)
Not only attracting a lot of talent, Threadless makes the most of the power of word-of-mouth and encourages artists to tell their friends about the site. They would help the artists by sending them digital submission kits that include HTML code and graphics to help them create professional-looking advertisements for their designs.
Artists spend weeks tinkering with their work and soliciting advice from other members. Then they would tell all their friends and post links on every design forums, spread the word as much as they could, post links to their submissions on their websites, blogs, and MySpace pages,Facebook, Twitter asking their friends to click, vote, and even buy.
Threadless users are not required to join the social network or vote in order to buy shirts, but many users have offered their opinions on thousands of designs. Participation on Threadless is not just about voting for designs you really want to buy, it is something enjoyable and empowering about playing critic on new designs, an exploration and a unique customer experience.(Threadless website)
Threadless completely changes the business concept where customers buy what companies offer. At Threadless, customers end up playing a critical role across all its operations: idea generation, marketing, sales forecasting. Community members tell Threadless precisely which shirts to make, every product eventually sold out and the company has never produced a flop.
What is also interesting about Threadless is the company has no moderators, no single person or group in charge of keeping the community happy. It lacks many of the features found on MySpace or Facebook. There are no virtual friends, no messaging features, and no status messages. Users’ profiles are made up of their blog postings and their submissions.
But both the company’s founders – Nickell and Kalmikoff spend much of their time cruising Threadless.com to post comments on blogs, inspecting designs, and tweaking the website. They publish their instant-message addresses and regularly update changes to design or contest policies. If someone changes something on Facebook, there’s no expectation that some random user is able to get in touch with Mark Zuckerberg but on Threadless, if people see something they don’t like and want to talk to Jake, they get Jake.(Burkitt, 2010)
It is not the shirts but the customer experience that makes Threadless successful. Threadless has pioneered a new kind of innovation by making use of social network. It doesn’t require huge research budgets or creative brilliance — just a willingness to keep looking outward, by asking more than any modern retail company has ever asked of its customers — to design the products, to serve as the sales force, to become the employees.
Threadless’s product — something as low tech and as commoditized as a T-shirt — proves that if you can build and manage a vibrant online communities, by making use of blogging software, social network platform… you can take your business to anywhere.