Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World's Most Inspiring Online Design Community -- the book!

By Cory Doctorow

Threadless co-founder Jake Nickell's Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World's Most Inspiring Online Design Community is just what you'd want in a history of one of the Internet's most consistently interesting and creative commercial endeavors. The text combines a potted, year-by-year (and blow-by-blow) history of the site's founding, growing pains, successes and setbacks; interleaved with these are short essays from entrepreneurs, employees, designers, and journalists about the significance of Threadless, as well as interviews with Threadless designers from Malaysia to Wisconsin to New Zealand.

The book reproduces hundreds of the site's best t-shirt designs from over the years, with notes from each of designers, as well as photographs of the amiable chaos that seems to have characterized the company and the site's lifecycle.

Threadless has an astonishing story to tell -- a story about business and community co-existing and even thriving, a story about naive entrepreneurs who were able to iterate quickly using the power of the Internet to get it right, a story about art and fun and creativity. My favorite quote came from Sonmi (a rare female voice in the book, which has a regrettable whiff of sausagefest about it), one of the site's successful designers: "I love nice people who make cool things" (itself a quote from Will Bryant). From what I can tell, that about sums up the Threadless ethos.

The Threadless book is a treat -- more informative than an artbook, less boring than a Harvard Business Review case-study, a sweet-spot between commercialism and passion, like the site itself.

Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World's Most Inspiring Online Design Community

Published 7:36 am Thu, Nov 25, 2010

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

5 Responses to “Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World's Most Inspiring Online Design Community -- the book!”

  1. hershmire says:

    Hah, I worked for Threadless for a summer picking and packing t-shirts. You gotta remember they’re just a company that makes a lot of money off selling t-shirts. The open design process is neat and they employees were mostly nice, but they’re sole stated goal (to us, the warehouse workers) was to increase the amount of t-shirts sent out the door every day. And I guess now to sell books.

    • 13strong says:

      I don’t think anyone at any point suggested otherwise. They make and sell t-shirts. The point is that they do so using an innovative on-line design process that fosters a large, active and creative community of designers and customers. But nobody is doubting that as a business their principal aim is to make money.

      Personally, though I like many of the designs, I don’t think the physical quality of the shirts is as good as it used to be, and I question the eco-friendliness of manufacturing tees (apparently ethically) in Pakistan, shipping/flying the blank tees to Chicago, printing the designs on them, and then shipping them out to countries around the world. Surely you could skip a step there and just manufacture and print them in one place.

      But that aside, they’re an interesting phenomenon worthy of attention, and they do make some awesome t-shirts.

      • benher says:

        “Surely you could skip a step there and just manufacture and print them in one place.”

        Are you suggesting that we manufacture something in the US?… Intriguing…

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          What if, instead of manufacturing them, we borrow someone else’s money and use it to bet on whether or not anyone else will be willing to borrow someone else’s money to invest in arranging to have them manufactured? That’s how we do things here in the US of A.

  2. jonathan_v says:

    i remember when they first started making t-shirts for people on dreamless. still can’t believe they turned it into such a huge company.

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