For most of its 11 years in business, Threadless.com sold T-shirts featuring designs submitted by artists and voted on by visitors to the e-retail site. But the e-retailer’s business model is changing, and so is its e-commerce site.
CEO Thomas Ryan offered a sneak peak of Threadless.com’s new design, which will launch in a few months, in a keynote address today at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference in Orlando, FL.
Two big things have changed in the e-retailer’s business model, Ryan explained. First, Threadless is no longer just producing T-shirts, but also putting the designs that artists submit, and community members vote for, on such items as wallets, laptop sleeves, backpacks and totes. Second, Threadless increasingly is working with other companies to produce products that these partners sell, often offline. These include Dell laptop cases, Thermos bottles and coolers, and artwork based on shows from Disney and Cartoon Network.
Aiming to make clear the mission of this evolving company, Threadless came up with a new tag line: Make Great Together. Ryan says this tag line captures the Threadless process of creating art with the input of Threadless’ 1.8 million members and artists, and in cooperation with other companies like Dell and Disney. He said artists have submitted more than 375,000 designs over the years, which led to about 3,300 designs making it onto Threadless products.
The new site will present a different look to visitors arriving for the first time and for those returning.
In both cases, the site will feature four main top navigation tabs: Make (where artists will submit designs), Pick (where community members will vote and offer feedback), Play (where community members will participate in the site’s active discussion forums) and Shop (where visitors will be able to buy).
Newcomers will see quick shopping options, such as for men’s and women’s apparel, a video that explains Threadless and statistics about the Threadless community, such as number of members, submissions and printed designs.
Returning consumers will see a more personalized version of the site. The home page, for instance, will show the shopper designs he might like based on past purchases and designs he’s voted on. The Pick section will highlight designs the consumer can vote on that are similar to artwork he’s previously engaged with.
Encouraging consumers to vote and comment on designs is crucial to building the Threadless community—and driving sales, Ryan said. “We’ve found that customers who are deeply engaged, whether they are artists who submit designs or customers who vote and hang out, are far more valuable to us because they get involved in the process and feel more connected to our brand,” he said.
The new site will also encourage artists new to Threadless to submit designs. The Make section will feature the number of designs submitted that day and thumbnail images of some designs from artists submitting for the first time. “It can be quite intimidating for people to get involved in a deeply entrenched community,” Ryan said. “We want to promote the newbies who come to the site and make it easy for them to become a part of what we’re doing.”
Within the Shop section, product pages will enable a consumer to see a design she’s viewing on a variety of products. She will also be able to view products by artist, newest items and most popular products. A left navigation bar will let the shopper sort by style, size, color and other parameters.
As important as the new version of Threadless.com is, Ryan said the company also invested last year in creating a mobile-optimized version of its site and has continuously experimented with promoting its products through social networks. Threadless, which Ryan noted was built on the concept of community before online social networks like Facebook and Twitter took off, now boasts 1.8 million followers on Twitter, 415,000 Facebook fans and also feeds its designs to such social networks as Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest.
“Given the evolution of the company, we had to redefine our purpose and redesign our web site to match the redefined purpose. But we also must invest beyond our web site in areas like mobile and social,” Ryan said. “We have to communicate our brand and purpose in a way to engage our community, wherever they choose to engage with us, and as a way to attract new community members over time.”
Threadless.com is No. 514 in Internet Retailer’s Second 500 Guide.