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Threadless.com: The History

Disclaimer: Woa, I wrote a LOT!


Hi everyone! label's recent blog "5 years of Threadless" inspired me to create my own recap of the non-stop insanity that has been running Threadless since Jacob and I officially started it in November of 2000.


2000-2002 - Threadless, The Hobby


Jacob and I met on an online design forum called Dreamless (it doesn't exist anymore) that was run by Joshua Davis. There was a tee shirt design competition that took place on a thread on Dreamless to design the official tee for an event to take place in London. Jacob and I and about 100 other people all entered and I actually ended up winning it with the design below. (It's a crappy design, I know, but it would make sense if you were a member of Dreamless b/c that's what the forum looked like)


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So then Jacob and I started talking online about how awesome it was to participate in the competition. Dreamless was all about art and design and a lot of artists on there had 'battles' and shared/critiqued their work with each other. It was all around a very creative environment for hobbyists and professionals alike to unleash some creativity in their free time. We thought Threadless would be a fun project that would 'give back' to the community by actually creating goods out of the work created by these artists. We started it as a hobby, just a way to enhance the Dreamless community.


We held the first design competition directly on Dreamless. We started a thread on there asking people to make tee shirt designs and stated that we would print the winning designs, put them up for sale and use the profits to hold another competition and print more winning designs.


Jacob and I each invested $500, spent $200 of it on a lawyer to start skinnyCorp as a Sole Proprietorship under my name with the intention of doing web development work as well and the other $800 was spent on printing 2 dozen of 5 different designs submitted on the Dreamless thread that we liked. For the first few rounds, the winning designers received a few free copies of their winning tee and that was it. By 2002 though, winning designers also received $100 cash.


For the next TWO YEARS, Jacob and I worked full time jobs WHILE going to college AND running Threadless. For the 1st year, we actually got our tee shirt printer to ship our orders for us. The 2nd year, We stocked all the tees in my apartment meeting once a week to package all of that week's orders and then ship them out on our lunch break the following day. Shondi was already living with me at the time and she also helped package orders from the very beginning!


For those first two years, every dime we earned from selling tees just went right back into printing more of them.


2003-2004 - Threadless Gets 'Real'


Eventually Threadless snowballed to the point that Jacob and I needed to decide whether we should quit our jobs and work on it full time or stop doing it. I quit my job and set up an office right away, and Jacob followed a few months later. We rented about 900 sq ft and shared it with Chuck Forman of setpixel (who now runs i'm in like with you.) We converted skinnyCorp into an S Corp, finally started paying ourselves, hired our first employee (Good 'ol Craig Shimala) and made a go of it!


I was still in college when I made this decision and made a last ditch effort to finish up quickly by submitting a proposal to my Dean to let me test out of my remaining classes. I ended up getting credit for 7 classes I hadn't yet took but still had 3 to go. It became too stressful to continue to go to school while beginning to run my business full time and manage new employees so I dropped out.


At this point, even though Threadless was doing OK, it wasn't really enough to pay the bills and our main focus was our web development business. We basically used Threadless as proof that we knew how to build e-commerce websites. Craig handled the day-to-day order fulfillment and customer service while Jacob and I worked on programming boring websites and working on Threadless whenever we had a free moment.


This is also around the time Jeffrey (iFDL) started working with us. We were basically partnering with him to design the websites that we were programming and ended up hiring him when we discovered just how well we worked together.


By the end of 2004 we outgrew our space and had to move. Oh, and we were paying winning designers a bit more with $400 cash and a $100 gift certificate.


2004-2006 - The Big Growth Spurt


We moved from our 900 sq ft shared office space into a 3,700 sq ft space. We basically just sat in the corner of it when we first moved in and wondered, "WTF, why do we need this much space!?" Well, by the next year we ended up taking up the rest of the 1st floor, expanding to about 8,000 sq ft. And by October, 2006 we moved again into our current 25,000 sq ft main facility.


During these years I watched Threadless grow by leaps and bounds. In number of employees, warehouse space, tees being sold, designs being chosen per week, prizes being awarded to designers, etc, etc. Things were growing a lot in the first few years too, but going from 2 to 6 employees is a lot easier to take in than from 6 to 18 employees.


By the beginning of 2006 we decided we would need some help maintaining the growth. So, by late 2006 we took on an investor (Insight Venture Partners) that could help us figure out our fulfillment logistics and such. They've been a huge help so far. It's been a huge relief to me having some help in that area because I'm much more interested in the creative, fun side of the business. It's nice to have someone with expertise that is invested in the business to help us figure out all the boring stuff.


2007 and beyond - Now & Later


So far 2007 has been pretty rockin' ... it's always fun putting together our sales, it seems like every time we have one we out-do the previous one. We already added another 10,000 sq ft for pallet storage. The prize for a winning design is up to $2,000 in cash and prizes and will only get bigger.


Right now we're continuing to have fun rolling with the punches and opportunities that Threadless brings. It's always been about just doing what feels right and what we think would be cool to do. So right now, that consists of creating our very own private label tee shirt, setting up crazy retail stores starting in Chicago (we like to call them community centers), trying to do more for our international customers by getting shipping time and costs down and some other fun stuff, furthering Threadless Kids and a bunch of other random things.


Threadless is such a huge part of my life. Everyone in my condo building I'm sitting in here calls me the t-shirt king, it's hard to put on anything but a Threadless tee in the morning, I get to work with most of my best friends, I see new amazing artwork every day, communicate with people all around the world, am faced with new challenges every day and here I am blogging about it at 2 in the morning on a Tuesday o_O.


I love every minute of it :)


Awesome.

Watch this
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J-Ray

ninja!

kaloyster
kaloyster profile pic Alumni

But still, you never show your winning shirt design after all these years.

bhoomika

I wish you and THreadless best wishes for the future!

ISABOA
ISABOA profile pic Alumni

livin the dream

DesignbyProxy
DesignbyProxy profile pic Alumni

NICE!... I'm happy for you guys, and thanks for all the fun.

goldensara

Wow, what an absolutley incredible and inspiring journey.
Keep on rockin skaw!

Daniel San

Do you still have a Dreamless tee?

skaw
skaw profile pic Staff

Do you still have a Dreamless tee?

What's funny is I never actually even got one, nor did I get paid for it or anything - there really weren't any prizes. But I was still SOOO stoked to have won and have my design printed and inspired enough to have dreamed up Threadless.

I wish I had one though :(

DesignbyProxy
DesignbyProxy profile pic Alumni

well... if it makes you feel any better, you could always print one yourself. hahaha

badnobe
badnobe profile pic Alumni

congrats!

bhoomika

How did you guys came up with the names SkinnyCorp and Threadless?

pxlb
pxlb profile pic Alumni

Funky business... :)

d3d
d3d profile pic Alumni

way to ruin a great blog j-ray you dickhead.

that's a pretty awesome story jake. and just yesterday that you were shooting craig with BBs. this is a million time more enviable. it's encouraging and heartwarming to see a creative drop-out make it big. when you're ready to open an Aussie branch give me a call.

FRICKINAWESOME
FRICKINAWESOME profile pic Alumni

That was an awesome retrospecticus from the early stages of Threadless right up to the here and now! Thanks for filling me in, since i was a bit curious how you got all of this started and the history of a place that has taken up nearly my entire wardrobe and late night free time, while also encouraging me to create new fun things like slogans and designs with awesome peolpe i never woulda met any other way but through here. So, a few questions for you:

a) Do you ever think about going back to college and finishing up your degree?
b) Did the name of Threadless come from being a thread on Dreamless, thus referencing computer threads and the threads that make up your fine products?
c) What are the qualifications of getting a job with Threadless?
d) Is the "community center" that is opening in Chicago going to have the same tees being sold that you can buy on this site, or will your stores start stocking special limited edition tees just sold in-store?
e) Can you print one of my slogans on this site so i can feel like i've finally succeeded in life? lol. Trick question!

Seriously tho, thanks for the full skinny on skinnycorp.

skaw
skaw profile pic Staff

How did you guys came up with the names SkinnyCorp and Threadless?

Before skinnyCorp I used to have a small freelance setup that I called skinnylad. Here's an old skinnylad website. skinnyCorp was derived from that. Threadless started as a thread on Dreamless (get it?) and the word just seemed to work because it implies having a lack of threads. Threadless is where you go if you are thread less.

The Crackers

i thought that said skinnyvlad

and i was about to be like VLAD IS MY NAME!!! YABADABADOOOOO!!!

but yeah

threadless you rule,
jake you rule

everyone fucking rules!

J-Ray

Thanks d3d; I do my best =)

skaw
skaw profile pic Staff

Do you ever think about going back to college and finishing up your degree?
Recently I got my fork lift operator's license. That's my backup. Seriously though, honestly, probably not.

What are the qualifications of getting a job with Threadless?
It depends on what the job is. We usually don't make job postings, we'd rather seek people out when we need someone and/or hire the occasional person that falls into our lap that we just can't pass up.

Is the "community center" that is opening in Chicago going to have the same tees being sold that you can buy on this site, or will your stores start stocking special limited edition tees just sold in-store?
a little bit of both - i can say this though, new tees will be coming out on fridays in the store rather than the mondays that they come out on the site.

;)

ecky_ducky

That is an awesome story. I'm so proud of you guys.
Sniffs.

And I second Leon's Australia store thing. I would be right there with bells on my nipples. Wait, is that the whole phrase?

d3d
d3d profile pic Alumni

that's all we need. people with access to stores lording it over us with their fancy unavailable shirts for a whole weekend before we can get them.

DesignbyProxy
DesignbyProxy profile pic Alumni

ohhhhh. Awesome... When is it scheduled to open(the store)? Cuz you know a bunch of us are gonna be up there (chicago) mid July.

goldensara

lol @ d3d

soon it'll become a status symbol if you have a threadless store shirt :P

ahhh, I can just see it now...

The Crackers

When there's random questions going you always have to bust out the random ones.


What's your favorite type of candy?

FRICKINAWESOME
FRICKINAWESOME profile pic Alumni

Thanks for answering the questions skaw! Great, now i'll have to either make a random friend in Chicago to troll the store every week for me, or get enough cash together to fly myself into the city for a two hour stay and jet on home. Skaw, can you just put a runway out back of the Threadless comm center if you have a little bit of cash left? thanks man, i'd really appreciate it.

NatySpaghetti

this made me warm in my belly

tear and claps

your efforts are enjoyed all over the world!

MeLa de Gypsie

I'm wowed to the point where I've nothing left to say really.

Not many people would be brave enough to put a stable job and everything behind them to fulfil their dreams.

Here's hoping it'll never get tiresome, never get boring and to Threadless forever...

the end...

well not really

Daniel San

We neeeeed an Aussie store. I would live there.

Cactus Pirate Jr.
Cactus Pirate Jr. profile pic Alumni

Wow, Jake, you're kind of my hero right now.

applause

d3d
d3d profile pic Alumni

when you start printing candy shirts on gingerbread men i'll buy the first crate.

radiostaticstar

that's a great story and very inspiring,
thanks for all the hard work and dedication,
i can't think of any place else i am happier spending my money and just hanging out...

taz-pie

yay! i would love to come visit you guys in the states. but, if you ever need to take a break and want to go on safari in south africa or whatever, just drop me a mail :)

Noobits

I have a fork licence need any help?
great story

BrandonB11

Heres my questions:
What was the point you decided to quit your job and work full time at threadless? I know you said that it just got real big but, what was the reason behind you believing threadless has gotten so big?
What has been your favorite threadless shirt that has ever gone through threadless? Or if you can not name one, narrow your favorites down to top 5.

also can i get a job there when i graduate college in 2010? I am sure threadless will be huge by then and you could fit me in.

;P

BrandonB11

o and great story

spacesick
spacesick profile pic Alumni

well I'll be! what a fun AND educational story.

but this is such a rip-off. I've invited taz to visit me like a million times and every time she says that she can't find her passport, or her iguana died, or she hates me, or some lame line like that.

GallyAl

Nice!
Now to think of something to set up so I can work with my best friends...think brain, think.....I got nothin'.

d3d
d3d profile pic Alumni

you could rent billboard space on your legs alice. it's work you can take with you.

Vindemiatrix

Awesome post and inspiring story. You rock so hard, Jake, and it's brilliant that you've not only found a job that makes you happy, but that also brings happiness to people around the world!

Since you're being cool and answering questions... how are those custom shirts coming along? Will the girly short-sleeve tees be the same cut/fabric/etc as the custom girly long-sleeves you have right now?

Noobits

hahhaaaaaaa nice

taz-pie

space, you suck. how many times must i tell you that i am not xxhot.babe.tazxx that you met on skype?!

steviec

Joins slowly building and accelerating handclap

The thing I love about Threadless is the amazingly organic way that its popularity has spread. Kind of like a virus...

Back at the end of 2005, I was having a coffee at Vargabar cafe in Newtown, Sydney, when I saw this guy lining up outside for his java fix wearing a shirt depicting a naked Christ surrounded by Bobbies at a soccer match (http://www.threadless.com/submission/20994/JC_was_a_Streaker_The_Second_Coming). I had to have it and he told me where to get it. So I did.

Whenever anyone asks me about any of the many Threadless shirts I'm always wearing, I tell them (and even those who don't ask!) the same thing. And thus the power of word-of-mouth advertising is propogated!

Well done guys. Long may you continue to grow.

d3d
d3d profile pic Alumni

you know the best part about that stevie? the bloke who designed that shirt lives in sydney too.

deboraborialis

That is such an amazing story of success. Congratulations!

kooky love
kooky love profile pic Alumni
1 design submitted -

GREAT $5

Congrats for Jake and Jacob.
Congrats for threadless' folks!

Noobits

cool story stevie.


the year seven students at the school where I teach were asked what they remember most about the year so far, their answer,
Miss R's tee shirts, she has enough for three weeks without washing any. Their fave was 'Nuts' Little pets! observant hey.

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