Threadless, a site that combines e-commerce with crowdsourced T-shirt designs, just added some perks for artists aimed at helping them earn more money.
Here’s how Threadless works:
Anyone can submit a new shirt design. New designs are posted each week and the site’s 2.5 million community members vote on which they like best. The most popular shirts get printed. For years, artists received $US2,000, $US250 in Threadless gift cards, and limited royalties from the sale of certain products featuring their design — until now.
Starting today, artists will get 20% of all profits from their design, as well a non-exclusive contract that lets them sell their art elsewhere. They will also be able to track their royalties through a new dashboard, so they can see how well their work is selling and in what form (you can buy designs on iPhone cases, prints, and other apparel other than t-shirts). Threadless is also adding a new “tipping” feature to encourage buyers to give money directly to artists whose designs they love.
“Every change that we make to our business model has been to give artists more money,” founder Jake Nickell told Business Insider. “With the new dashboard, artists will be able to say ‘Hey, my Mr. Mittens design is selling really well on iPhone cases right now. I should promote that.’ We want to help them take their destiny into their own hands.”
He and Jacob DeHart founded Threadless back in 2000 as a spin-off of an idea that Nickell had on a now-defunct web forum called Dreamless.
Nickell was working his way through art school at the time, after rejecting a full-ride for a computer engineering program. He was burned out on computers. After all, he had worked as a web developer since he was 15, a job he scored after teaching himself to code.
He discovered his love of art by ditching the glowing computer screen and picking up a paint can. He would create big, colourful graffiti around town in Crown Point, Indiana, where he lived. Once, his own dad called the cops on him.
He joined the Web forum Dreamless because it combined his two passions: Art and technology. He started a thread where he asked fellow members to submit t-shirt designs, so he could print the best ones for the group to wear. Most of those first T-shirts were techie inside jokes but people were getting into it enough that he decided to build a website to host more user-submitted designs. He would sell the T-shirts for under $US20.
The site grew bigger and bigger until eventually Nickell and partner DeHart needed to hire their first employee to help keep up with the demand. Nickell was a junior in college.
“I couldn’t see myself going to school and not being around to manage my company,” he says. So he dropped out.
Today, Threadless sells millions of T-shirts per year. More than 1,000 designs are approved for voting each week. The T-shirts the company prints rarely flop because Nickell and his team have proof that people want them before they’re made. The company now has about 80 employees.
“I still create code weekly,” Nickell says. “I’m heavily, heavily involved in the design and development of the site.”
The site has been live for 14 years, but Nickell doesn’t want to stop innovating.