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Threadless Art Director Ross Zietz

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Last night I headed to the State Library in Melboure to check out the first event in the ‘Portable Film Festival 2009 Symposium Series‘, produced by 30under30 winner Simon Goodrich and his energetic crew at the Portable Film Festival. It was the launch of what I hope will be the first of many future events.

The main attraction for this pleasingly energetic, Asahi-sponsored soiree was Threadless Art Director Ross Zietz, who regaled the 100-strong crowd with stories about working for the highly successful online t-shirt community, online store and production house.

For those unfamiliar with the brand (if there are any of you left), Threadless was launched in 2000 by two young graphic designers, Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart.

With just $1,000 (the spoils of an internet t-shirt design competition), the duo set about creating a site that would give designers and creatives around the world a chance to interact, discuss ideas, analyse feedback and ultimately gain international exposure for their designs.

According to Zietz (admittedly put on the spot), the model operates as follows:

  • The website receives approximately 150 t-shirt design submissions per day from t-shirt enthusiasts and designers (from all corners of the globe).
  • This roughly translates to about 10,500 submissions a week, among which approximately 10 are chosen for production, as voted by the same community, their friends, observers and random web visitors.
  • The successful designers are awarded $2,000 (and international kudos).
  • The business makes its money largely from t-shirt sales (and other product extensions)

Listening to Zietz, I was able to jot down the following three gems of wisdom (not actually gained directly from what Zietz said but from his shared experiences and actions working for Threadless):

“Hire people whose plan for your company is larger than your own.”
That’s how Zietz got his job in the early days of Threadless.

“Not all logical product extensions are logical.”
Threadless has attempted to extend the model and apply it to dinner plates, wallpaper, prints and now-twitter feeds, to varying degrees of success (and abandonment)

“A successful company blurs the line between its product and its consumer.”
The most successful businesses seem invariably connected to the thoughts, desires and aspirations of their customers. Threadless has taken this philosophy to a new level.

Fortunately, Sydney-siders also have the chance to hear and learn from Zeitz, when the the Portable Film Festival 2009 Symposium Series hits the Harbour-City this Thursday 28 May (tomorrow). Visit the site to register.

Also, Anthill has already spoken with Zeitz about his participation in an online forum. If you would like to join this discussion, you can register your expression of interest for this also.

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