Threadless is a T-shirt company, sure, but it’s much more than that. It is one of the first companies anywhere to make crowdsourcing an essential part of its business plan. Just as Facebook lets users create customizable social networks to connect and collaborate with others online, Threadless gives its social network—two million people and counting—creative control over the products it sells. Anyone in the network can submit T-shirt designs that site members vote on, with winners printed and sold by Threadless.com. Back in 2008, Inc. magazine called Threadless “the most innovative small company in America.”
According to its CEO, Threadless’s growth strategy is multipronged. The company will keep selling tees on its website, Ryan says, and will add new kinds of products. It will become a supplier to more large retailers. And it will expand to entertainment brands.
As for possible plans to take the company public, both Nickell and Ryan remain mum. “Our mission,” Ryan says, “is to get the world’s creative minds to make and sell great artwork.” Nickell puts it another way: “Respect the artist. Trust the community. And don’t let ourselves trip up by getting in the way.”