T-shirts are not in limited supply on the internet. Throw a virtual rock, and you’ll hit five custom T-shirt building sites, including algorithmic ones with millions of mostly-nonsensical messages.
So why start yet another T-shirt website? Apparently, to make T-shirt buying a social event, or even a cause.
“TeePublic is a Kickstarter for t-shirts,” BustedTee general manager Adam Schwartz told me on the phone today. “I think when people are backing Kickstarter campaigns, they’re often backing a cause … who’s behind it and what they’re doing it. There’s something powerful about feeling like you’re connecting with and supporting the artist.”
Schwartz and Josh Abramson, who founded Vimeo as well as CollegeHumor, the hilarious but raunchy site for, yes, college humor, are launching TeePublic out of public beta tomorrow. And while it would appear that gaining traction in this extremely competitive market is a very tall order indeed, they have differentiation and, frankly, a plausible plan.
Find the best and most interesting artists, designers, and internet celebrities. Feature any t-shirt from those or any other designers for 30 days. Keep only the ones that sell at least 30 copies. Feature those winners on the site more prominently. And then … pay designers $5 for each shirt sold.
It’s about quality and crowdsourced curation, Schwartz said, complete with the now-familiar crowdfunding standbys like how many people are “funding” the shirt, how many days are left in the campaign, and a progress bar. But it’s also about building a platform for designers to actually make a living.
“Very obviously there are a lot of sites out there,” he told me on the phone this afternoon. “But the thing we saw is that even if you can get a shirt or two up on Threadless, it’s a nice coup, but it’s not sustainable. We’re trying to attract a certain level of designer, trying to attract quality.”
And … trying to make designers more than a few bucks for a latte on the weekend.
Abramson sold BustedTee — along with CollegeHumor and Vimeo — Barry Diller’s InterActive Corp in 2006. But IAC is about “billion-dollar companies,” Schwartz says, and media companies at that. So Abramson bought BustedTee back from IAC in the summer of 2011. The site has been growing “at a nice rate” ever since, but it wasn’t the place or the platform for a “kickstarter” for T-shirts.
“The T-shirt market is really crowded, and filled with low-quality content,” Schwartz says. “We’re finding stuff we think is awesome.”