Threadless mantra: be human & find friends


This blog post comes to you live from the PSFK Chicago Salon, “Fueling Imagination.” During a morning session, Mig Reyes, Brock Rumer, and Colleen Wilson discuss the employee culture inside Threadless, the successful T-shirt designer and merchandiser that famously crowdsources designs.

The Threadless team expresses bemusement at all the news media attention devoted to Threadless. To them, there is no secret to the success of Threadless: be human and rely on friends. That’s all there is to it: seek ideas for T shirt designs, quickly act on the good ones, and be cool to people as you do it. Spread good karma and get good karma.

According to Team Threadless, successful T-shirt design ideas can come from anywhere including inside Threadless — customer service, the CEO, anywhere. And it’s not just a matter of crowdsourcing designs — Threadless also crowdsources ideas for improving the way the company operates. Mig says that encouraging employees to generate ideas was inspired by Facebook and Google, two companies that make it a point to set aside time for employees to think creatively.

According to Brock, Threadless discourages prima donna behavior and encourages employees to embrace their inner whackiness, including the manner in which employees tweet. According to Colleen and Mig, Threadless also encourages people to be human.  The culture is open with a come-as-you-are vibe in the office. (“We want to work with people who are not afraid to embarrass themselves,” says Mig.) And that authenticity extends to the way Threadless markets itself. Threadless does not typically use models to show off its T shirts but real employees who look like you and me. If the company makes a mistake, a real person owns up to the problem and deals with it. You don’t get a bland “Sorry for your inconvenience” message from a phone tree if a T-shirt order is botched, but a “Man, we messed up” from a real employee — a personal approach partly inspired by Zappos, Mig says.

Have fun. Be human. Be respectful. And do it all with friends. Those are the principles of the Threadless culture. And that culture shines through in its marketing and service approach.

PS: great to be at a PSFK Salon and meeting Piers Fawkes, and I enjoyed reconnecting with Brock, a former Razorfish Chicago colleague.