"The main key to our success has been to let things happen on their own, without a lot of pushing but instead nurturing new projects or ideas," says chief creative officer Jeffrey Kalmikoff. "You can't force a community to happen. It's an organic thing. (If you force it) you'll either self-destruct your brand, or if you are able to bully some people into participating, they're fully aware that it's a brand community instead of something that they'd visit and participate in anyway. So we learned to just let things happen and sort of nurture it along as it grows."
Part of its organic nurturing process is to eschew traditional advertising and instead focus on providing ways for the Threadless community to grow itself. "We don't advertise at all," says Kalmikoff. "All our efforts are towards finding ways of expanding word of mouth. If you're a designer and you want to get chosen, you're going to tell everyone you know to go to the site and vote. If you're going to do that, why wouldn't we give you the tools to do that better? Banners for your site, the ability to send mass e-mails and stuff like that. It also grows our site because in order to vote, people need to register and get a username, which gets more people on our newsletter. Is it marketing? Of course. Is it planned out? Now that we know what we're doing it is, but it didn't start out that way."
In September, the brand opened its first retail space in Chicago and is already planning to open more around the U.S. in small cities with thriving art scenes, Kalmifoff says.
"This is a company run by real people who believe and participate in their own project," he adds. "There isn't a secret to making things appear that way, you just do it or you don't."
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