Threadless, Chicago T-shirt crowdsourcing company, lays off 27% of staff – Crain's Chicago Business


Threadless, the Chicago-based T-shirt maker once called “the most innovative small company in America,” laid off more than one-fourth of its staff and closed its Lakeview store.
Threadless cut 23 of 84 jobs, founder and CEO Jake Nickell said in an email to Crain’s today.
In a post on the company’s blog late Jan. 10, Mr. Nickell wrote: “I just made one of the most difficult decisions in the 13 years since Threadless began. As a result of this decision, I had to let many of my friends and colleagues know that they no longer have a place here working at Threadless.”
(See related story: “T-shirt maker Threadless cuts jobs.”)
As part of a reorganization that will rely more on established retailers for distribution, the company closed the Threadless store at 3011 N. Broadway.
Jake Nickell
“The core mission remains the same,” Mr. Nickell told me via email today. “Our strategy to achieve our goals is slightly changing. We are de-emphasizing some of the areas that don’t align with the new strategy. . . .We have made the decision to let go of a few product lines that no longer align with our future growth plans and the markets we want to expand into.”
“We are still pursuing retail expansion, but we are looking to do so with a refined strategy,” Mr. Nickell said. “Rather than trying to do it all ourselves, we intend to focus our attention toward our technology platform in order to better service Threadless artists, our community, and design submission and sharing.”
However, Mr. Nickell says the company “will continue to look to hire as we expand into different areas, including digital.”
Threadless was one of the hot startups in Chicago before the recent resurgence of tech. It attracted attention and a cadre of smart, creative technologists because it used the Web to crowdsource designs for T-shirts.
Among its alums are Harper Reed, who went on to become chief technology officer for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, and software engineer Dylan Richard.
Threadless made the cover of Inc. magazine in 2008.
In 2008, Inc. magazine bestowed the innovation crown on Threadless in a cover story. CEO Tom Ryan headed the company for four years but stepped down in December 2012 to return to Los Angeles.
Threadless raised its profile in the past couple of years, inking deals with major retailers and brands such as Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond and Dell Inc. Revenue soared from $6 million to more than $30 million between 2005 and 2012.
“With retail relationships, we intend to leverage partners to grow distribution channels and retailers in order to get more designs selected, which, in turn, gets more artists paid for their art,” Mr. Nickell said. “We’ve determined that working with best-in-class companies to accomplish these things will help keep us focused on doing what we’re most passionate about — which is building and growing our platform for independent artists to monetize and share their work.”
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