We recently gave some love to Threadless’ RSS shopping feed and pointed out the Chicago Tribune (finally) profiled the company. More things to like about Threadless:
1. It’s not Web 2.0.
Threadless isn’t about Web 2.0 buzzwords, technology for technology’s sake, doing the VC tango, etc. Threadless is about kicking ass as a real, profitable company and taking care of its customers (the loyalty of customers is the #1 priority).
2. Community…no, really.
A lot of sites pay lip service to the notion of building a community. Threadless actually does it. And it’s not just having a blog or a forum (though the site has those too). Check out the site’s navigation where “Shop” and “Participate” are given equal treatment:
It’s no accident. Threadless isn’t just a place to buy stuff. It’s a place where people do stuff too. The people design the shirt ideas, decide which shirts get made, post to forums, upload photos of themselves wearing the shirts, etc. The result? People are attached to Threadless. As Don Norman says, “We are much more emotionally attached to products for which we feel some involvement.”
Threadless makes people feel like partners, not just customers. That’s why people become MySpace friends with Threadless. They start blogs about Threadless (like this or this or this). They care what happens.
3. It’s playful.
Threadless nails the playful part of the process. Check out the “A song about this tee” MP3 on shirt pages like the one for Happy Hospital. Or how about the Willy Wonka inspired Find the Golden Tag and Win! (“if you receive your order and your shirt has a gold foil tag you win a free tee of your choice!”).
This coy tone extends to copywriting and staffing too. Check out this bit from the coffee-stained FAQ.
Q. How do you become a skinnyCorp employee? How can I become a skinnyCorp employee?
A. You have to be amazing. When we hire, which we don’t do very often, that’s the first thing we look for. Amazingness. Followed very closely by awesomeness, and then insaneosity. You also have to be able to hold your breath for 6 minutes while completing a mile-long sprint. Do you have what it takes?!
When the site asks for a birthdate it follows up with a link that says, “Who wants to know?” instead of the typical “Why do we need this?”
This playful attitude is part of why people get excited about Threadless. Here’s what Kathy Sierra says about playfulness: “Brains love play. Find a way to bring more play (or at least a sense of playfulness) into someone’s life, and you might just end up with a fan. Brains evolved to play, and apparently the bigger the brain, the more likely it is to play. Play turns the brain on.”
4. It’s a real business.
There’s no “build an audience and figure out how to monetize it later” stuff here. Threadless sold $6.2 million worth of merch last year and has pretty much quadrupled in size each year for the past four years. This year’s target = $18-$20 million.
The site’s been diversifying from its main line too. Threadless Select is for “leaders of the design field.” TypeTees is a new take on the traditional “slogan-tee.” There are Threadless Kids tees. Naked and Angry is branching out into ties, wallpaper, and more.
Plus, there’s a subscription revenue stream via the 12 club (a limited edition tee is sent every month for an entire year). There’s a Street Team affiliate program where you can earn points toward future purchases by referring sales or submitting a photo of you wearing a tee. All these approaches wisely spread Threadless’ eggs to different baskets.
5. DIY attitude.
Threadless has avoided partners and investors: “We pride ourselves on being DIY. We started with $500 and have worked our way up to here without any investors. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the casserole – especially if some of the cooks only care about how many people it will feed and not how it tastes! :)” It also makes for a great PR angle and is a big reason why the company retains cred with its fans.
Threadless cares about the details. The shirts are quality. The designs are well executed. Its not just the products, either. The site has lots of nice UI touches too. Check out the way they handle stock information:
They also sound out crisp emails that get straight to the point with photos of the latest tees.
7. Giving back.
Threadless gives something back too. The company teamed up with the Red Cross to raise money: “The designs, chosen from a host of submissions from artists around the world, will be offered through the RedCross.org Store and Threadless.com with $5 from the sale of each t-shirt benefiting the Red Cross.”
Threadless is on point. Real, profitable, human, funny, quality, charitable, and independent. It’s about time more people started paying attention.