Back in March, I reported on and took photos of Threadless' big celebratory bash at the Gap on North Avenue to mark the two businesses entering a partnership together. Called Gap + Threadless, the enterprise entitles the Gap to sell an exclusive line of shirts designed by Threadless' community. At the time, 26 new designs were being sold in 15 local stores and also across North America and Canada.
In July, Threadless will be releasing a new collection of T-shirts, and also branching out into shirts for kids and toddlers as well. Also since March the number of participating stores has swelled to 170 in the U.S. and Canada. (You can check out the shirts here.) So, I figured now was a good a time as any to check back in with Threadless to see how the partnership has been going a quarter-year in, what unexpected challenges have cropped up and any advice they had to offer to others on the experience. I gave Marketing/Social Media Manager Bob Nanna and Threadless Publicist Beth Cleveland a call.
Can you walk me through a bit of the timeline of how the partnership has been going since it launched earlier this year?
Bob Nanna: It's been going really well. One of the main things we wanted to do with the Gap partnership was to give the artists more opportunity to get their work out there, and even until this last round of products that we put into the Gap stores -- we just had two artists come out to an event we did in New York and it's almost crazy to see how overjoyed they are to see their work not only on shirts but at the Gap. Beth can chime in, too, one of the artists, Margot, who has a shirt coming out in the next batch of products, she was moved to tears to see her shirt. It was just a great, great moment.
Beth Cleveland: Yeah, it was really cool. She had never seen her design on a T-shirt before and she had just found out two days ago that her design was selected for the next phase of product with Gap + Threadless. She literally burst into tears. It just totally clicked for everybody and they're just like, "This is why we're doing this. It's all about the artists."
Bob Nanna: Right, and so we're going to be having another design challenge launch to help get some designs going for future products.
Were there benchmarks or goals you hoped to reach with the partnership in any capacity?
Bob Nanna: There were some expectations about getting the work out there. Those were our main goals. We wanted to partner up with a big physical place like Gap because we hadn't really done anything like that before and thought it was a great opportunity for us, and perhaps they thought it was a great opportunity for them to help tap into our community for some products on their end, too. And so in terms of the visibility for the Threadless name and the visibility for all of the artists -- you've seen the displays at the stores, they're very artist-centric, they give bios, we're not trying to hide their name and their work. In that sense, we're all getting the job done.
Where do things go from here?
Bob Nanna: Well, we're going to keep going. We've been really happy with how everything's turned out and there'll be a new round of products coming in July and along with that will be a new design challenge for possible future products. So, as long as there are artists submitting designs to Threadless, we'd all love to keep it going and get their work out there even more.
Have there been any unexpected challenges with the partnership, or has it pretty much been smooth sailing?
Bob Nanna: I guess with any partnership there are some challenges because we both have different timelines in which we work. They have stores, they have physical product that needs to go each location, whereas we just ship from here normally. We have our own production timeline and they've got their production timeline but the more we worth with them, the more streamlined it's getting. But at first it was a little tough to get all that worked out. It's a given with any partnership like this.
How did this partnership come about, anyway? Did they approach you or did you approach them?
Bob Nanna: They approached us. We were looking for new ways to get the artwork out there and had other companies that would help us do that. We did a design challenge for colleges recently and that got us on their radar, pretty much, and they thought, "Well, this would be a cool partnership to do for the summer for their graphic T-shirt line."
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs to learn from the experience of partnering with the Gap?
Bob Nanna: Expect that there will be some obstacles to overcome in that both companies don't do everything the same. There's some compromise, but it's just staying true to each of your goals and ideals as a company and still staying positive and staying on course.
Beth Cleveland: I think also [it's important to] find a partner that totally has the same goals. There's a lot of synergy between Gap and Threadless in terms of their support for artists and great artwork. That's a lot at the core of Gap company and it's definitely at the core of Threadless, so the partnership just made perfect sense because the philosophies were definitely aligned.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.