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How Threadless Disrupted the Fashion Industry


Threadless, a company based in Chicago, was founded in 2000. It has been functioning smoothly for twenty years now with millions of registered and contributing customers. But what makes it so special? Read on to find out!


Aakriti Bansal

Management Student | Marketing Professional

The fashion and apparel industry has seen a lot of new innovation, working models and cut-throat competition. Yet, most of the time, the ideals and mindset of a designer have been the driving force behind the fashion trends and type of clothes one gets to see. However, one company decided to break this unidirectional flow of designs and decided to change things up with the help of technology.

Threadless, a company based in Chicago, was founded in 2000. It has been functioning smoothly for twenty years now with millions of registered and contributing customers. But what makes it so special? 

Threadless works on the concept of co-creation. It works hand to hand with its customers and has been successful in creating an online community of artists and designers who not only create T-shirts for the brand but also earn royalties out of it. Each week, about 1,000 designs are submitted online and are put to a public vote. The most voted designs are then looked at by the Threadless team and become a part of their catalogue. 

Their brand is extremely successful online with $115.6m net sales in 2019, not just because they get their customers to design products for them but also because they have been successful in creating an engaging community of loyal customers who willingly contribute to the brand. Moreover, by crowdsourcing the decision of best design, Threadless is able to already assess the demand for the product which ultimately helps them perform better than most other similar players. For most millennials and Gen-Z, contributing to the brands they wear makes a lot of sense since it gives them a sense of ‘being heard’. This also helps them keep upbeat with the dynamic trends giving them a chance to become trendsetters. 

In today’s dynamic digital world, it is imperative for brands to stay relevant. Threadless’ is an exceptional example of brands that have managed to stay in trend by designing what they feel is likable by the majority of the youth, by the youth. This helps in the word of mouth marketing as well in two ways. One, anyone who comes across such a unique model tends to let his peers know of the same. Second, when someone designs the t-shirt, he tries to get maximum votes hence, promoting the brand as well. 

However, even in today’s digital world, 70% of merchandise sale happens through offline stores. Threadless’ model is highly ineffective there. Threadless, as a business, is more successful in the online space compared to the offline because the essence and positioning of the brand are such that the customers, now already associated with it, have an expectation to see the variety and be a part of the product making process. Threadless learned this particular thing the hard way when they tried to venture into offline space in 2007 but had to eventually close down the store due to inadequate sales and negligible customer engagement.

With the way Threadless has been functioning and an increase in digital mode of shopping, can a shift in buying behaviour be expected? How will a company like Threadless pan out in the current Covid crisis?

Note: Digital Dialogues holds the right to use this piece of content as authorised by the owner. If you wish to use material from this article for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The views expressed in the article are personal. Also, there might be references taken from various sources on the internet. The main intent is to share across information to the reader!

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