Clothing as Conversation (Twitter Tees on Threadless)

Threadless just announced their Twitter Tees on Threadless program. What a great idea. Submit or nominate tweets, community votes, best make it onto shirts.

From the two shirts they sent me in advance, I can see only one trick they are missing: the author of the tweet is on the label rather than on the shirt. As I found myself saying to the Washington Post, “every new medium has the potential to be an art form.” And as the Post added, “If Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde were still alive, they would probably all be on Twitter.”

twitter shirt from threadless
Part of the gift of aphorisms is remembering who said them. It matters that it was @biz who said “It’s the messaging system that we didn’t know we needed until we had it.”

There’s also a nice serial purchase opportunity. If this threadless/twitter program takes off, I see potential for a whole line of clothing by people whose tweets I admire. I’d totally subscribe to the @sacca collection.

This whole idea of fashion and social media seems to be coming up these days. Just yesterday, I had a great conversation with Chris Lindland, founder of Cordarounds, the short-run clothing design firm that started with horizontal corduroy (cordarounds), has moved into cool concepts like “bike to work pants“, and crowdsources its marketing photography by inviting customers to send in pictures of themselves in the clothing they buy. Here’s Chris:

Every clothing idea I release is designed to stoke some amount of Internet chatter. Where haute couture is inspired by art and hip couture is inspired by street culture, my products are inspired by Web communication. This conversational approach has been a necessity since the get-go, as I’ve never had the mighty monetary sledgehammer clothiers use to create product awareness.

While I’m sure that reads like Web 2.0 common sense to O’Reilly readers, it’s a new approach for folks in clothing design.

Of course, anyone who connects the dots between my Watching the Alpha Geeks thesis and Make: magazine should be able to extrapolate that crowdsourced design of physical objects is the next stage in the Maker movement. Industries start with one-off hacks by enthusiasts. Then one or more of those enthusiasts gets the entrepreneurial urge, launches a company, and figures out how to bring the new trend to a larger audience. (You have only to look at Steve Wozniak’s first Apple I models, made in a woodshop, to see this principle in action.)

Crowdsourced fashion design is the narrow end of the wedge. T-shirts are easy. But expect this trend to transform manufacturing as a whole over the next few years.

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  • Carl Morris

    This is totally destined for Nick Carr’s blog again.

    (But I like it!)

  • bowerbird

    t-shirts being compared to pioneering microcomputers.
    i do believe that i have now heard it all.


  • I’ve only been on twitter for less than 2 months. I learn things each day. Many I’ve learned from following your tweets. I recently retired as a teacher in a school where each of the 3,000 kids was given an Apple computer. To me they were typewriters with Google. Now as a writer I’ve discovered that my web site allows people to see my new book from around the world. 65 years old and just fell in love with technology. Well, not just the sales platform for my books; in my chest is an advanced pacemaker/defib. that is incredible. I’m alive because of this device. To me the best technology ever invented: Words. Thank you for all of your help. I would love to see some of my tweets on shirts. I have shirts I made that I would love to sell if I weren’t broke. I got to meet David Baldacci (he has a copy of my book now) because I was wearing a shirt that I created: “Baldacci – Italian for Best
    Seller” He and his wife loved it. (The shirts I would sell have no copyrighted words or famous names like Baldacci.) Keep up the great work.
    N. Wylie Jones p.s. I have only 3 copies of my book left to try to get famous creative people blurbs to take to David Baldacci’s agent or another agent. I’ve sent copies (3 days ago) to
    Dean Kamen, Adriana Trigiani, Oprah, Robert Barnett (literary lawyer); weeks ago sent one to Ray Bradbury, my hero. I handed David Baldacci a copy when he visited Richmond last week. Do you have any suggestions for getting blurbs from famous creative people like Ray Kurzweil and Edward de Bono? My book’s title: The World’s Most Creative (And Dangerous) Quote Book. I designed the book and would love to have it design patented but that’s expensive. As far as I know, it is the first book that turns into 2 books.

  • I liked this post but we don’t have to get locked into the one off supply chain. We can customise (and recustomise) our own t-shirts with screen shots from Twitter or naywhere else. Google printer ironon transfer paper , e.g.

  • Great post, Tim. I’m Tom from Threadless. Glad you like the concept and the shirts! Regarding your comment on the author being on the label rather than the shirt, the author is actually referenced on the lower front of the shirt, right below the Twitter logo. I hope we didn’t send you unfinished prototypes!

  • In July 2008 I participated in a distinctly-“art”-focused collaborative t[weet]-shirt project during my New Media Scotland Twitter Residency. This type of integrative art + customizable_object[ification] reflects contemporary identity “stamping”/markers + the gradual decay of “art” as a hi-brow institutionalized categorisation.

    An extract which describes the project:

    “The Residency consisted of…
    1. A month-long project entitled _Twitterwurking_ comprised of sequential “tweets” posted via a microblogging platform called Twitter. The work itself was written in my mezangelle language – a type of merging of programming languages/code with poetic elements. The Twitterwurk sought to incorporate specific users into the narrative by typing the “@” symbol before their name. The users were then made aware of this focused reply and thus deliberately enfolded into the tweetstream/project.
    2. The production of a line of _t[weet]shirts_ – a product line (including t-shirts) offered for sale through the New Media Scotland Spreadshirt store. These products were custom-printed with select phrases from the Residency tweets [eg “plot-fodder” “sign[ull]al.lost”].