Threadless, By Jake Nickell

Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart started Threadless 10 years ago with $1,000. They never intended it to be such an enduring business--it was more of a fun thing to do online, given the growing number of designers searching for a place to share ideas. Still, today, anyone can sign up, download a tee template and submit ideas, which are then evaluated and voted on by the Threadless community. The winning designs are printed and sold, often providing the savviest artists with a bit of cash -- and a moment in the spotlight.

But as a business, the T-shirt company has capitalized on a buzz that never seems to fade. Threadless now has two flagship stores in Chicago. And they've recently published a book full of their best eye candy. In the Threadless book, excerpted here, Nickell recounts the company's decadelong success.

A Few Shirts At A Time
Nickell won a T-shirt design competition for an event in London. After the win, Nickell chatted online with DeHart about an ongoing competition where people could perpetually submit T-shirt designs. They could print the best ones. For the next two years DeHart and Nickell would pour every penny from selling T-shirts to printing more winning designs. Visitors and members of the community score them on a scale of 0 to 5. After a week of voting, the best design get printed. And there's a fresh design every Monday.
Woody (personal work)
Threadless is a business built on top of a foundation of creativity. Artists illustrates the little ironies in life -- and the inside jokes we share with friends.
Springfield Still Life
Designed by Alvaro Arteaga Sabaini. Score: 3.89, as voted by 873 people.
Pandas for Peace
For this tee, designer Ross Zietz originally wanted to have a King Kong-type giant panda climbing the side of a building while swatting away at planes. But pandas just seemed too peaceful for that, Zietz says: "They just want to eat, sleep and make baby pandas." That gave rise to pandas for peace, which many users assumed was an anti-war T-shirt. Zietz loves the many different meanings people draw from one shirt -- and the fact that the design is now on the side of a building in NYC.
In Disguise
A bank-robbing panda or a well-disguised bear? Designed by Glenn Jones. Member since July 2004.
Designed by Glenn Jones.
Deflating Defenses
Designed by Glenn Jones.
Organized Food Fight
Designed by Glenn Jones.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Designed by Leon Ryan. Score: 2.89/5 by 2,224 people.
There's No Crying in Breakfast
Designed by Philip Tseng. This t-shirt has been voted by 2,559 members of the Threadless community and has been given the score 3.00/5.
Color-Code Criminals
Designed by Loy Valera. Cult movies are often referenced on Threadless. From Reservoir Dogs, here is the scene where Mr. White is driving Mr. Orange back to the abandoned warehouse. Score: 3.29/5, voted by 2,517 users.
Rhinos Hunt in Packs
Designed by Aled Lewis.
Foam Monster in Emotional Reunion with Severed Limb
Designed by Aled Lewis.
The Book
You can pick up a copy of the book, 'Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World's Most Inspiring Online Design Community on the Threadless website for $15.

The Accidental Business: Threadless, 10 Years Later

Threadless was never intended to become a business. Ten years later, the T-shirt company has two flagship stores in Chicago—and a new book celebrating its decadelong experiment in crowdsourced, curated designs. Here's a look inside.

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