June 2, 2011, 11:35 AM

Threadless makes a case for an iPhone app

A custom-designed iPhone case contest leads to a robust mobile app.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

Threadless customers can use its new iPhone app to socialize, doodle and shop.

Threadless, a merchant that creates and sells custom-designed tee shirts and accessories, has in the past sold iPhone cases with colorful designs. This year, though, it decided to let its community of 1.5 million members create designs for a new iPhone case. Members submit designs, other members vote on the designs, and the winning design will get made into an iPhone case by case manufacturer Griffin to be sold on Threadless.com.

To promote the contest, Threadless was preparing an app. But as it got further and further into app development, it came to the conclusion that a Threadless iPhone app should do much more than just center on a contest. Threadless is a shop, after all, and so shopping via the app became a priority. Then the retailer decided to include “Wacky Stuff,” tools that match the Threadless personality designed to entertain members and keep them coming back to the application for more.

The wacky stuff includes a doodle pad. Users can control the width and color of the marker and draw on a tee shirt template, creating a rough draft of a design. Threadless also makes use of the iPhone’s camera by enabling a shopper to snap a picture of her face and superimpose it on various Threadless designs. She can save the personalized picture in a photo library and from there order a tee shirt with the image.

Developers Obtiva and Eight Bit Studios built the app, which comes on the heels of the January launch of a Threadless m-commerce site. The next version of the app will have contests revolving around the use of two Disney franchises.

Threadless declines to reveal details, but says mobile traffic is strong and growing. It adds that e-mail generates a good deal of mobile traffic as an increasing number of consumers check their e-mail on mobile devices. Threadless e-mails read on mobile devices automatically send consumers to the mobile-optimized site.

Overall, m-commerce is becoming an important channel, one with plenty of opportunity for creativity, says Brock Rumer, user experience director at Threadless.

“The first goal was to have an app that facilitated this iPhone case challenge, but it is important to have an app that reflects who we are as a company and offers much more than just a single challenge,” Rumer says. “The bigger goal is to have an official presence in the mobile world that we can add to and grow.”

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