Designers, Designers, Designers

Look, we know where our bread is buttered. Without designers, there is no Cotton Bureau. With that in mind, we have two very important announcements to make:

  1. We can (finally) accept international design submissions.
  2. Designer accounts are a real thing.


Way back in 2013 we launched Cotton Bureau using Amazon Payments. Every transaction was split at the time of purchase between us and the designer. Amazon would deal with the tax implications and cart experience. It didn't take long for us to get burned badly and repeatedly by that decision. Refunds were a mess, designer account creation was an unmitigated disaster with funds being arbitrarily frozen or designers being prevented from even signing up, international designers were completely out in the cold, and the checkout process for customers was confusing and painful. We used Amazon at the time because we thought it was the only option. Cotton Bureau shares a lot of DNA with Kickstarter and Kickstarter used Amazon. How bad could it be? Very, very bad it turns out.

Thankfully, Stripe was just getting their payments system off the ground and we were able to switch both the checkout and the designer payment system. It was a win across the board. Designer signups were significantly easier, though still not available to our international friends. Checkout was easier for customers and we've had almost zero trouble paying designers. We are now responsible for getting the correct tax documents to people, but we've got that under control. If only we could get international designers on the site somehow. Surely Stripe is working on it, but it could be years before they've developed their payments system across the globe. What to do?

PayPal. Seriously, PayPal. We're familiar with the horror stories. We know first-hand the pain of dealing with their interface and API, yet after searching the Internet up and down, we couldn't find anything better. So here we are. International friends, you can submit designs RIGHT NOW. Send us something. You'll be dropped off in our brand-new account system (more on that below) where you can provide a PayPal address for receiving payment. To be honest, we're still a little bit nervous about using PayPal. Aside from PayPal really being the only game in town, there were two recent events that reassured us about aligning our fortunes with one of the Internet's favorite punching bags. One, our collective anger has gotten through to PayPal. They know they've screwed up and have promised to take steps to make things right. Two, the service has improved since they made that promise. The innards of the site have gotten a fresh coat of paint and, maybe it's just a shared hallucination, but it evens feels a bit faster. We're cautiously optimistic that PayPal has exorcised the spirit of complacence that bedeviled it for the past decade. Finally, while we're using PayPal to pay international designers (or, really, anybody who's not comfortable sharing their bank information for direct payments), we're still not accepting payments via PayPal. That's at least as much a technical decision as a business decision, but the business rationale is that if we do run into any difficulty with PayPal, it won't cripple the site. Outgoing funds may be delayed slightly, but since money only goes into PayPal on an as-needed basis, we'll still have funds available to produce and ship shirts.

Designer Accounts

Until now, the Cotton Bureau submission process was handled entirely by email. The email-only approach was just what we needed to launch Cotton Bureau as quickly as possible. It's flexible, convenient, and requires zero custom development. Now that we've grown up a little, though, it's time to start adding features that are only possible when designers can log in. Is my shirt approved? How can I see all my past shirts at once? What if I want to switch my payout method? How can I edit my shirt description?

Beyond the simple features available to designers today, getting the system up and running lays the groundwork for dozens of features we've been champing at the bit to build since we first dreamed Cotton Bureau up. No promises what's coming or when, but this is a big step on the way to making Cotton Bureau what we know it can be.