data enablers

Data Enablers: Spreadshirt, Data-Driven T-Shirts

T-shirts may seem like a simple product, but according to Spreadshirt, there is a ton of hard data and analytics at the core of even the softest shirt.

Germany- and Boston-based Spreadshirt uses data, analytics and even social media information to build a product and spread news among communities while printing more than 3.6 million items last year.

“[Our founder] conceived of the innovative idea of bringing one idea on one item to a print, on-demand platform that could be easily shared and developed the first prototype in 2001,” said Hugo Smoter, chief commercial officer for Spreadshirt. “The idea is to make merchandising easy, fun and accessible to everyone with a good idea and spread these great ideas and designs on the Spreadshirt platform to a global community.”

Founded in 2002, the goal of Spreadshirt’s platform is to eliminate headaches and hurdles when bringing great ideas to market. The ability to print on-demand apparel and accessories — more than 220 different products — through the platform helps communities and businesses buy, sell, create and share their ideas in more than 12 languages and 19 markets and currencies.

“We automate complex payment and tax regulations in over 180 countries and offer a variety of payment checkout options,” said Smoter. “The e-merchant is freed up to concentrate on creative ideas and community engagement with fans rather than spending time on a tedious business process.”

With its 15-year-ago roots in Leipzig, Germany, Spreadshirt added stateside locations 10 years ago. The founder, Lukasz Gadowski, was an MBA student at HHL Leipzig who conceived of the idea order to make merchandising easier and more accessible and “spread it” to a global community.

“The startup concept was to create and activate an online shop system to sell and share ideas,” said Smoter. “Within the first year, Spreadshirt’s one hundredth shop partner was registered, and the global business really gained traction.”

The company recently launched a new Partner App and Partner Area, both designed to make product creation and selling simpler and more profitable for all involved parties. A variety of organizations have used Spreadshirt, including social influencers in gaming, YouTube creators, entertainment companies and nonprofit organizations.

“Spreadshirt is always hyper focused on enhancing the partner experience; we support them with our Spreadshirt blog to offer marketing, product and design tips to help partners improve sales and offer the Spreadshirt graphics service to help create a printable template of any partner’s design ideas,” says Smoter. “We are the only global platform to offer the options of personalization, selling in marketplaces or white-label shops.”

In 2015, Spreadshirt hit global revenue of approximately €85 million and shipped to 180 countries. Globally, the company has more than 500 employees spread between Leipzig; Boston; Henderson, Nev.; Greensburg, Penn.; the Czech Republic and Poland.

But, Smoter said, this is still just the beginning.

“Spreadshirt is entering our puberty phase of corporate existence with a hyper focus on becoming a sustainable mature brand,but we have not lost our agile spirit or our ability to be creative and innovative,” said Smoter. “Despite a 15-year run in the EU and 10 years in the U.S., our startup vibe is alive and well and fully embedded in our culture.”

He says that the short term goal is to beat CustomInk in personalization and RedBubble in Marketplaces and to eclipse TeeSpring in merchandising services.

The past 15 years has given Spreadshirt time to evaluate and learn. One learning example Smoter gave is taking on a new market, especially when it comes to a new country.

“The U.K. market was more difficult than any other European market when it came to growth,” said Smoter. “The initial start is easy in each market, but you need insider knowledge and the right measure of localization to be really successful and have sustainable growth.”

And on top of just that learning, Smoter said Spreadshirt’s biggest ongoing challenge is competition from non-European competitors that don’t face the same tough regulations as European companies, such as privacy and copyright laws.

“Many global entities become very consumed by scaling up in western EU or the U.S., but their overall market share for online is not huge — western EU represents only 18 percent of of online retail. The conversation should be about how to capture the remaining 82 percent,” said Smoter. “Long-term survival as a global eCommerce entity is all about understanding the entire customer base and evolving markets and priorities.”

Smoter added that the future for Spreadshirt includes the goal of spreading the business to become “a $1 billion entity publishing any idea on any product in under 60 seconds.”

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