At Quazen, Sydney Hazelton has created a list of “10 fun websites to create your own t-shirt.” Following that example, I’d like to offer my own review of eleven t-shirt websites… but with my own criteria. Each of the websites listed below not only offers you the ability to design and buy your own t-shirt, but also to sell them to others in an online shop. My primary criterion for these shops is the availability of ethically-made products and the ability of shopkeepers to control what sort of products they sell in their shops. I’m aware that’s not important to everyone, but it is to me, and I’m writing this article for those who are interested in selling products made in an ethical manner. Should a shirt-selling website meet that primary criterion, I then evaluate the website according to its ease of use for shopkeepers and its navigability for shirt shoppers. To give you a quick summary for skimming purposes, I add a letter grade to each webshop for its t-shirt offerings and practices.
In reverse alphabetical order (in sympathy with all the Wanda Zykeses of the world):
1. Zazzle. Grade: F: Unacceptable. This print-on-demand service allows you to sell designs on a large number of ethically-made shirts. These include union-made t-shirts as well as American Apparel and even a newcomer called Edun Live that intriguingly produces in Africa. That’s all very nice. But as of today, June 16 2008, Zazzle does not permit shopkeepers to select which brands of shirts will be sold on their shops. This means that if you want to offer an American Apparel or a Union shirt, you also must offer shirts from many other brands, many of which are manufactured in countries like China with long track records of worker abuse. Zazzle representatives have been telling us for a while that shopkeepers will be able to control what shirts they sell any day now. Until that day arrives, Zazzle is an unacceptable option for those who want to sell ethically-made t-shirts.
2. Skreened. Grade: A: Excellent Choice. Skreened is an independent operation in Columbus, Ohio that from the very beginning has printed only on sweatshop-free American Apparel garments. They do so in a dizzying array of shirt styles (men’s, women’s, kids’, babies’ garments in long and short sleeves, ringer and plain), and colors (from white to cinder to dijon to pomegranate to lemon to grass to slate and beyond). Designers can set up one shop or one hundred depending on their ambition, and extensive knowledge of html or css is not required. A large print area of 11×17 inches can incorporate single images or multiple images in a collage effect. Designs can not only be given titles and descriptions but also tags that can be used for searches. Information regarding shops, categories within shops and tags are all output in RSS feeds so that you can share information about your shirts with others. All these features make it easier for shirt shoppers to find designs and put them on just the size, style and color of shirt they’d like.
3. Shirtcity. Grade: F: Unacceptable. Shirtcity is so close to being so cool. I mean, check this out: they print on Fair Trade wallets and knit baby caps. How cool is that? What a shame that, as with Zazzle, you can’t seem to limit your sales to non-sweatshop items. No, you have to sell each one of your designs on every Shirtcity product, which includes products made in countries where workers just aren’t treated right. Try again, Shirtcity.
4. Spreadshirt. Grade: B-: Acceptable But Unwieldy. Spreadshirt offers a number of American Apparel t-shirts and yoga shirts, hoodies and the like, and it allows a shopkeeper to pick exactly what type of shirts to sell, which is great because it means that a shopkeeper can build up a sweatshop-free catalog. But the design of the Spreadshirt shop is really, really unwieldy. In order to place one design on multiple products, a shopkeeper has to go through a series of web pages to create one type of shirt — and then go through the same series of web pages to create another type of shirt — and then go through the same series of web pages to create a third type of shirt — and then go right back to the beginning and do all those steps over again to create the same types of shirts in different colors… sheesh! That’s a recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome right there, it is. One design on a bunch of American Apparel shirt types and colors can lead to over a dozen separate “products.” These clog up a Spreadshirt shop, which allows only so many shirts to be listed on a page — and that makes it hard for a shopper to find just the right shirt. Your Spreadshirt shop is customizable, but you have to be pretty skilled with CSS and html headers and footers in order to make it work. Spreadshirt is a pain to work with.
5. Red Bubble. Grade: B+: If You Are What They Seek, Consider Yourself Found. When it comes to selling t-shirts, Red Bubble is a graphic artists’ community, so if your t-shirt design doesn’t qualify in your mind as graphic art, then it really does not belong at Red Bubble. The niche for Red Bubble is relatively small, but within that niche Red Bubble has an admirable commitment to ethical shirt production, with eighteen shirt colors, four shirt styles from American Apparel, and absolutely no sweatshop shirts. A 12×18 canvas to work on for each shirt means that you can do more with what you have. Expect to get some serious substantive commentary from fellow artists when you post your work here.
6. Printfection. Grade: F-: Completely Lame. Printfection doesn’t sell a single sweatshop-free shirt. Completely, utterly lame.
7. Pixeltees. Grade: F: Unacceptable. Pixeltees sells what it calls a “girly” shirt from American Apparel, but it identifies the rest of the shirts as Fruit of the Loom, a brand which has a sweatshop history. No choice in the sort of shirts you can sell as a shopkeeper, which is one reason why we aren’t shopkeepers there.
8. Pikistore. Grade: Incomplete. Pikistore has a highfalutin design team, a number of subsidiary web pages and spends paragraphs describing the quality of the materials in its each of its shirts, but dedicates not one word to brand or country of origin. I’ve written to Pikistore asking for this information and will get back to you if and when Pikistore supplies it.
9. Corporate Casuals. Grade: C-: Possibility At a Cost. Most of Corporate Casuals’ clothing items are not for direct printing, but rather to be computer-embroidered. The possibilities for innovation in embroidery-on-demand are great; only CafePress offers embroidered items, and those only on items made in overseas factories. Corporate Casuals offers a large number of Bayside shirts, caps, aprons and more, made in a vertically integrated factory in Anaheim, California. Unfortunately, the means for selling embroidered designs are fraught with cost: a shopkeeper with Corporate Casuals must either pay $65 per graphic design to have it rendered as embroidery, or supply a .dst embroidery file that must be produced with a special kind of software program that costs hundreds to thousands dollars. Corporate Casuals also offers direct printing, but the clothing to be printed upon is with one exception made overseas. If you decide to set up shop with Corporate Casuals, be prepared for a number of calls to their corporate office: the interface they’ve designed is filled with odd vocabulary choices and unexplained menu options. Even in the shop your customers will see, the designs you upload never appear on the shirts being sold; they are placed underneath. Corporate Casuals may have something unique and useful to offer in the future; at this time the website has contented itself with the unique.
10. CafePress. Grade: B-: Thoroughly DoAble But With a Limited Selection. CafePress has one of the most open architectures of all the print-on-demand web sites, with the capability for shop owners to add as much (or as little) custom html as they see fit, including blog posts, images, essays, almost whatever they want to make their shops just right. The layout of CafePress shops also permits shop owners to put as many designs on a page as they see fit, which is nice. The wide range in shop designs is unfortunately not matched by a wide range sweatshop-free made in the USA products. There’s only a small set of shirts by American Apparel to choose from, and while CafePress has been indicating its intention to add more of these shirts for some years now, it hasn’t done so, so don’t hold your breath.
11. Bountee. Grade: F-: Completely Lame. Bountee sure has some awesome artists contributing designs. And what sassy copy they write! Too bad they print on Hanes Beefy Ts and AlStyles made in factories where workers earn pennies.
Are there any glaring omissions in this set of brief Print-On-Demand reviews? If so, please send on the web page address and I’ll be sure to take a look.