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Interview with Jake Nickell, founder of Threadless

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General, by Anna-lisa Saywell

We speak to to Jake Nickell, founder and CSO of the super-successful T-shirt company Threadless, to talk about its own book and a connection with Barack Obama…

Company: Threadless /

AP: Can you tell us a little bit about the book? How did it come about?

Jake Nickell: Over the years, we have been approached by various publishers to create a book. It was something we were really interested in doing, but then the amount of work involved always seemed like it would be too big a distraction.

With Threadless approaching its ten-year anniversary, we thought it would be cool to do a sort of mash-up book of stories from the designs to the artists to the business model. That was really the hardest part, editing all of the amazing things that have happened down to the collection of stories that the book is now.

Threadless interview

AP: How did you go about choosing the work that was included?

Jake Nickell: We were looking to tell the widest variety of stories we could. So picking designs that are different from one another, that describe what was unique about that year of the business. Same goes with the artists we featured, the business stories we told and the little side stories about particular designs and artists.

AP: Have you had any favourite T-shirt designs over the years?

Jake Nickell: My favourites change regularly… but I do have a few that have stuck with me over the years as being staples to my wardrobe. Like ‘UPSO’ and ‘My Little Pony’.

Interview with Jake Nickell, founder of Threadless

AP: What advice can you give to artists wanting to create successful Threadless T-shirts?

Jake Nickell: Stick with it. The first time you submit will probably be hard… the community provides a wide range of feedback and you really need to be able to handle the negative side. It works best if you can use that feedback as fuel to keep going, keep submitting and growing as an artist. Keep on it, get into the minds of the community and blow them away.

AP: Can we expect to see another book from you guys in the future?

Jake Nickell: I would imagine so. Our publisher and packager are already urging me to follow up with more of a business book. I think that would be fun to do, only I would like to create a business book that is catered more towards high-school-aged kids, inspiring them to work on something they are passionate about, ie turning your hobby into a career.

Interview with Jake Nickell, founder of Threadless

AP: How are successful Threadless T-shirts chosen?

Jake Nickell: First the community scores them. Then we look at the top-scoring designs internally and pick which ones to print. For the most part, every shirt we pick is successful. There may be the occasional flop, but we really do know that people like the designs before we choose to print them which is incredibly powerful!

AP: Are there any ‘famous names’ among your printed T-shirts?

Jake Nickell: There are a few well-known artists, especially in our select line. Most artists have a really neat story though… the art director for Obama’s campaign has a printed design. Some artists have gone on to design snowboard lines and some have surprisingly ‘normal’ lives like a multi-printed artist who is a pharmacist in Canada.

Threadless interview

About Threadless

Launched in November 2000 by Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart, Threadless was born from an online art forum asking for artists to submit designs. Jake Nickell explains: “At that point we had no idea how we were even going to be making the T-shirts, we just knew that it would be a really fun project for people to be able to post designs and then for us to make the best ones into actual things people could wear”