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Tailor your own T-shirt design Online company rewards contributors' clever designs with cash and clothing

Remember the days when buying a T-shirt meant swinging by K-Mart and picking up a three-pack for $9.99?

As most of you know by now, T-shirts are no longer used as underwear or gym clothes. A few years ago, my T-shirt collection consisted of cheerleading competition logos and college loungewear. Nowadays, T-shirts have become a fashion necessity and a way to express yourself, not to mention the price increase.

If you really want to express yourself, check out www.threadless.com. This online T-shirt company allows artists and creative minds to submit their own T-shirt designs in an ongoing competition. Every week, Threadless receives more than 600 submissions for various designs and out of those 600, four to six winners are chosen.

So what's in it for the winners?

Their designs are printed on T-shirts for purchase on the site, plus $2,000 in cash and prizes are given to the originators. Most of the products and clothing on the site come from winners in the competition, and anyone can submit a design for scoring. Any of the shirts printed outside the contest are from well-known designers.

Although Threadless ultimately decides which shirts will and will not be printed, the scoring system allows the T-shirt makers to see what their customers really want.
Wondering how to submit a design?

First you need to become a member of Threadless. After that go to www.threadless.com/submitphoto, and follow all of the instructions and specifications. Once you have finished, your T-shirt design will be posted on www.threadless.com for seven days to be voted on by various Threadless users. If the design is ranked as one of the top-scoring T-shirts, it may be picked for printing.

If you're not the artistic type, you can still stand out in the hundreds of different designs offered on the site. But beware; most of the T-shirts offered are printed in limited quantities. Threadless wants the clothing to be unique and limited edition, they focus on bringing in more new designs rather than hanging onto the old ones.

What makes these T-shirts so unique?

Well the designs range from comedy, to raising awareness for an issue, to making a political statement, and many many more. For example, one of their past T-shirts was an image of United States with the words "regrowth" stemming from New Orleans in support of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The shirt had sold out when it was first released; the team at Threadless had so many requests for a reprint that they put it back on the market for purchase.

With the company slogan "Nude No More," the company has a lighter side, too. One of their top-selling shirts is called "The Fast Supper." This shirt sports a graphic of fast-food mascots Colonel Sanders, Ronald McDonald, Wendy, The Burger King, Little Caeser and the Arby's Oven Mitt, all gathered around a table eating various types fast foods. The picture is supposed to be a spin-off of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper."

The creativity and irony of designs like these are what makes this Web site so successful. The brains behind Threadless are its young creators Jake Nickell, 27, and Jacob DeHart, 26. Nickell won the New Media Underground Festival's (NMUF) London T-shirt competition and that win led to a jumpstart idea to expand onto the Web.

Nickell and DeHart met on dreamless.org a while ago, and both were living in Chicago and were Web developers. After dropping out of college, they started the business with about $1,000.

Their designing skill and love for T-shirts gave them the motivation to create skinnyCorp, the company that Nickell and DeHart invented to run Threadless. Since the site's creation, more than 300,000 users have signed up to submit their designs. Every week, an average of 3,000 more users sign up.

Bob Nanna, a representative for skinnyCorp, says that people are drawn to the site because it is completely community driven. "From the designing to the critiquing to the judging," Nanna says, "we also allow users to create their own profiles with links to personal sites, social networking sites, etc.

"Also, there are many users that come to Threadless solely for the chatter in the blogs," Nanna adds.

Because T-shirts are becoming such a fashion craze, many brand names like Monarchy T's, Trunk LTD and Chip and Pepper's sell their clothing anywhere from $60 to $170. Threadless offers similar styles with more personal flare for about $15.

Threadless also offers different color options, sizes and styles. Sizes run from small to 2X and are made for men and women. Their "girly tees" are printed on 100 percent cotton shirts and cost more to print (around $17). Most of the other T-shirts are 5 0/5 0 cotton blend shirts.

Threadless also runs its site without the use of sponsors or advertising. "We have a strict 'no advertising' policy so we do not accept ads nor do we place them," Nanna says. "Instead, we rely on word-of-mouth and our cross-promotional 'LOVES' contests with partners (bands, movies, festivals, etc.)."

According to Nanna, interacting with the community is a necessity for Threadless to maintain its growth. They are constantly reponding to feedback from users and keeping up on blogs. Not only are the users hooked on the shirts but the employees are as well. "We're always sporting Threadless shirts," Nanna says. "It's all I wear."

Threadless is a T-shirt lover's paradise that is cost efficient and far from ordinary. So if you're looking for an opportunity to express yourself, whether it's creating the design or sporting it, check out this lively Web site.

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