Case | HBS Case Collection | June 2008

Threadless: The Business of Community

by Karim R. Lakhani and Zahra Kanji

Abstract, the online, Chicago-based t-shirt company, was not your typical fashion apparel company. The company, run by Jake Nickell, Jacob DeHart, and Jeffrey Kalmikoff, turned the fashion business on its head by enabling anyone to submit designs for t-shirts and asking its community of more than 500,000 members to help select winning designs. Threadless encouraged community members to actively participate by critiquing submitted designs, blogging about their daily lives, posting songs and videos inspired by the designs, and, most important, purchasing t-shirts that have won the weekly design competitions. In 2007, Threadless was well on its way to selling more than a million and a half t-shirts. The success of Threadless has garnered significant media attention, the New York Times and USA's National Public Radio highlighting its unique community-based business model and has piqued the interest of large traditional retailers. Nickell, DeHart, and Kalmikoff were now faced with making a decision about a potentially lucrative offer from a major retailer offering to carry large volumes of select Threadless t-shirts in its retail stores. Should they accept?

Keywords: Business Model; Business Startups; Innovation and Invention; Product Design; Partners and Partnerships; Social and Collaborative Networks; Apparel and Accessories Industry;


Lakhani, Karim R., and Zahra Kanji. "Threadless: The Business of Community." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Case 608-707, June 2008.