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News Thu Nov 18 2010

A Decade of Design

threadless10yrs.jpgTo celebrate T-shirt company Threadless's 10th anniversary this year, the "most innovative small company in America" published a birthday book featuring designs from its history. The 224-page book, which can be ordered in paperback or (coming soon) as a coffee-table book, also includes profiles of fans and artists, such as graphic designer John Maeda.

Threadless co-founder Jake Nickell took some time to answer a few questions about Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World's Most Inspiring Online Design Community and the story he wants to tell about his company:

Why did you decide to put together a book to celebrate the 10th anniversary?

We did a lot of things during the year to celebrate. We went on tour, launched a bunch of really old reprinted tees, launched a few partnerships for products outside of just tees, had a big 10-year themed sale and other random things. The book came about because we finally found a way to properly tell the story of all the different, interesting areas of Threadless: The business story as told by us and by external experts in various industries. The artist stories through quotes, designer interviews and featurettes. The designs themselves being showcased vibrantly in print. Before, it was always a question
of what our book would be about. We finally came up with this format of a hybrid, telling all the stories, and after that concept was born, we ran with it!

What has been the response to the book so far?

It's been great -- all the artists are super-stoked to be featured in print. It's getting picked up in tons of stores, sales are doing well, and we've been getting glowing reviews.

Over the course of making it, did you notice anything that you hadn't really noticed before?

I think the biggest new thing that came from the book was the think pieces, which are little articles written by outside experts like [best-selling marketing author] Seth Godin and John Maeda. It was really neat to hear what they had to say about it. My favorite concept presented in there was by [Wired magazine's] Jeff Howe who wrote about the "Joy of Creation" -- it really helped me to understand our own company better. Especially the role of our community. People love making things, and Threadless is a great, productive thing for artists to do with what they make.

How would you say that the Threadless style has changed over the 10 years?

Generally, designs have become a lot more technical and advanced as things go on. The competition within the art community gets tougher as we grow and the bar is constantly being raised. There have also been a lot of trends that have come and gone: skulls, food with faces, trees, pop culture, vector shards, etc.threadless_p9.jpg

Do you have a favorite T-shirt from the past 10 years?

Yes, here's my fave, designed by Dustin Hostetler -- the husband of Jemma, the creator of our first T-shirt ever.

How did you choose what to leave out?

We did leave out a lot. We had enough space for X designs per year, and we went through each year looking for the best designs, trying to keep as much variety as possible from each year. So we didn't really approach it as "what do we leave out," rather, "what do we put in." The hardest decision was picking the featured designer interviews for each year. We were looking for an international cast and designers who really represented what happened in each year. I think it worked out well, but I wish we could have had everyone in there.

In the book, do you give any hints of where Threadless might go over the next 10 years?

Well, I do think it was important to really recap the past 10 years, as Threadless has became such an amazing art community over the years. Looking back, we really focused so hard on T-shirts for 10 years. Going forward, I think we will be working with our art community to do a lot more than T-shirts, so I think this was a good time to really focus on what we have done with the shirts up to now.

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