Nude No More

09 May 2006|Added Value

Me? No, that’s the tagline for I’m a big fan.

A few weekends back, I was roaming around downtown San Francisco with some friends. One of them led me into the Virgin Megastore on Stockton to check out some T-shirts he liked. They were ok – mildly humorous, with war-inspired, apocalyptic graphics and headlines. Unfortunately the uninspired visuals couldn’t match the content.

Threadless doesn’t have that problem. Their shirts rock. Each of the items they feature has been submitted by an artist or designer, subjected to the scrutiny of a web-poll vote and approved for sale by the community. Winners receive $1,500 cash, $300 store credit and a $200 club membership.

The content is fairly apolitical. It’s trendy, cute, humorous, mirroring the most innovative designs you’ll find on the web, in art school, or on that three-foot-wide design shelf at Barnes and Nobel.

When I was sixteen I spent hours pouring through Goodwill for unique T-shirts with ironic logos. Now Urban Outfitters and Lucky Brand Jeans sell faux-retro versions of that stuff in bulk. Mass produced vintage wear doesn’t appeal to me, Threadless does. For next to nothing (about $15 bucks), I can track down a shirt that’s bitchin’ and support some talented artists. It’s meaningful.

The site is fun and well designed. It’s clean, neat and upbeat with a style that makes you want to order. Interaction purists might not approve of the main navigation bar, with choices that fade in and out as you roll over “shop” or “participate.” It doesn’t seem like something the Threadless community would have trouble with.

You can browse the full catalog by thumbnail. There are detail images of every shirt. The “what’s in stock” section (filterable by size) has graphic meters that let you know you better move before that particular design is gone, gone forever… or at least until it resurfaces as a reprint.

What really makes this site cook is community. It’s a topic of conversation, but how often is community done well? Threadless’ success is obvious. Users submit the designs. Users approve the designs. Users model the shirts. Threadless wishes their users happy birthday right there on the front page of the site. Heck, they’ve even got an Apple widget.

I’m looking through the designs for the first time in a while and the talent is still there. I want that one and that one and that one. How can you not love a company whose motto is “order now, we’ll probably ship it tomorrow”?

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