Artsy Shark Goes Threadless

By Carolyn Edlund

What’s the inside scoop on the fun, hip indie t-shirt company Threadless?

They’re always recruiting artists to submit original designs that will look fabulous on t-shirts and other clothing to sell to their huge audience of shoppers. Yes, they want your original idea, but clearly state, “We’re talking an idea so amazing that your eyeballs may explode if you stare loo long!”

Artsy Shark went behind the scenes to find out exactly how this process works, and to discover if there is a secret to having your design chosen and land the $2,000 payout when it becomes one of the select handful of products for sale on their website. Via conference call with Threadless Community Director Mimi Henderlong and Artist Coordinator Rachel Gottesman (who gives thumbs up or down on initial submissions), it became clear that Threadless has taken a cool idea and turned it into a fanatical community of artists who support one another in the pursuit of saleable art.



Describing the submission process, Rachel explains that every day she receives about 200-250 designs from artists all over the world. Users download a submission kit from the Threadless site, and work with a program such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to put their art on a template, shown either flat or on a model.

There are guidelines however, and when they aren’t met, Rachel sends the submission back as “declined,” to be fixed and resubmitted. Rachel’s a stickler. No inappropriate or copyrighted designs, images too large or too fuzzy will get through. Lesson? Follow. The. Directions. If you’re not confident or just want input, you can have your design critiqued by your peers first.

When it is accepted (Yay!) it goes up on Threadless for seven days, put to a vote on a scale fro 0 to 5 from all visitors. This is where lobbying all your friends, contacts and even strangers can help get your unique design voted in as a crowd favorite. So post it on your Facebook page, and send emails and tweets to bump up your score – that’s encouraged. Warning: Voting on designs can be an addictive activity, resulting in your getting nothing else accomplished. So vote for your favorites, and then get back to work!



At the end of the week, your score gets averaged and the staff at Threadless (you can see them on the site – they’re the t-shirt models) get to pick their favorites from the best of the best. Then onto a final decision-making team who determines the winners.

Voting scores and comments are very influential, but the mysterious process by which the finalists are chosen is the secret behind the success of the designs that make it to the marketplace, at about $20 retail per shirt (or as a hoodie, or childrens tee or onesie.) Each week about ten new designs are debuted for sale from previous submissions. Winners are rewarded well for their hard work, receiving:

  • $2,000 in cash
  • $500 Threadless Gift Certificate (can be redeemed for $200 cash)
  • $500 in cash each time your design is reprinted

How cool is that? Even if you don’t get your design chosen, you will most likely end up buying at least half a dozen t-shirt that you can’t live without, thereby living up to the Threadless slogan “Nude No More.”


  1. Great post Carolyn! I think it would be fun to get involved with Threadless. I love it when I see someone I know tweet about their new designs- I try to get over and vote! Threadless is a fabulous business model, and I admire how they continue to grow with it!

  2. I agree, Erin. Although as noted – voting can be addictive! I found that once I got started rating them, I got a lot more discriminating on my scores. Threadless does have an excellent concept, which works not only for submitting and selling designs, but helpful critiques and a sense of community. For artists, that’s just about perfect.

  3. Love this post!
    This is slightly off-topic, but recently I had some work in an art books show. I wanted to do something different, instead of handing out boring business cards, so I decorated match books using materials left over from my work that was in the show and just wrote my URL on each matchbook. People buy art because they like the work but also because they love connecting to the individual artist. If you can find a way to use handmade work as your promotional piece in your shows, people will hang onto it forever of they like it!

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