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Threadless Goes to School: College Curates Shirt Collection

By Josh Catone

Chicago-based t-shirt shop Threadless is easily one of the most brilliant Internet businesses of the past decade. For those unfamiliar, Threadless is an ecommerce site set up as a weekly t-shirt design contest. Designers submit ideas for shirts and customers vote on the ones they’d like to see made. Winning shirts are printed in a limited run, and designers are rewarded with cash and free shirts. The beauty of the model is that the voting ensures that there is a group of customers ready to purchase the shirt before it is even printed — every shirt the site sells is pre-vetted and comes with a guaranteed market.

Last month, Threadless launched a spin-off site called The Select Series. The site gives a permanent home to a special line of Threadless tees that have existed since 2006 that are curated by the Threadless staff and not chosen for printing by the usual vote-based selection method. Unlike Threadless, at which unknown artists can rise to fame via the user voting process, the Select Series prints t-shirts from some of the art and design world’s best known names, such as Andrew Bell of CreaturesInMyHead.com.

Now, the site is about to launch a series of shirts created by art professors at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, all based on the theme of “newness.” Curated by University president John Maeda, the collection of four t-shirts by professors was on display tonight at one of the University’s galleries, and will be available for purchase in the risd|works store — a store that sells works by RISD students and professors — and on the Select Series site starting Monday.

“We’re part of this amazing community of learners, doers, and mentors that pursues the art and philosophy of human expression – and newness – with exhausting intensity,” said Maeda in a press release. “This project with Threadless has been a great opportunity to explore this timely theme together. We are amidst the election season here in the U.S., and a movement is arising driven by a palpable desire for change. Human nature and the creative spirit drive our desire for new tastes and new sensations, all of which can be synthesized into fresh perspectives and new experiences.”

Threadless plans to have guest curators for the Select Series on an ongoing basis, and proceeds from the RISD collection will benefit a $15,000 donation to the school’s scholarship fund. Though its awesome to see Threadless branching out into the art world and letting artists have more freedom to create, and it’s great that they’re giving such a sizable donation to RISD, it is a bit disappointing that the shirts were created by professors rather than students.

The animated GIF below cycles through the four t-shirts in the RISD series.

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