Happy Birthday to Us

On June 12, 2013—one year ago today—we launched Cotton Bureau.

On June 12, 2013—one year ago today—we launched Cotton Bureau. After six months of active development (and about a year prior of hypothesizing, strategizing, daydreaming, and “what if?”-ing), we started life with what the startup world likes to call a “minimally viable product.” In real-people-speak, that means “the least finished, least sophisticated system that we could realistically get away with.”

Much to our delight and slight surprise, it didn’t immediately fall on its face (quite the contrary, it took off like a rocket, at least for a week or two before leveling off to more modest altitudes). In the months that followed, we kept building, kept improving, kept adding the bits and pieces that were missing on Day 1. We brought international designers into the fold. We launched a designer login and submission system. We built a pretty slick shopping cart. In November, we felt confident enough about our progress and potential that we shuttered our web design studio to work on Cotton Bureau full-time.

But along the way, we missed one key update; in our haste, we never bothered to tell you why we built Cotton Bureau in the first place. Let’s rectify that oversight now (what better opportunity, right?) Call this our manifesto, call it our mission statement, call it a shot-across-the-bow, call it whatever you like. Here goes…

There are a lot of places on the internet where designers can sell custom t-shirts, even places where they can have those t-shirts printed and shipped. But all of those places have flaws…big enough flaws to dissuade people like us from participating. So we started Cotton Bureau to be the t-shirt shop we’d always wished existed: driven by the design community, focused on quality, highly curated.

We started it to be a community where designers didn’t have to win a popularity contest to get in the door, where the only price of admission was a quality design. We started it to be a gallery where designers would be proud to post their work, not a flea market free-for-all. We started it to produce top-quality t-shirts using actual screen-printing techniques, not glorified inkjet printers where the ink fades after half a dozen washes (and was never that vibrant to begin with).

We started it to be the antidote to t-shirts shops featuring nothing but anthropomorphic food, Star Wars/Dr. Who/Zelda/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan art, Experimental Jetset ripoffs, and a seemingly endless stream of “Keep Calm And…” mutations. We started it with the refusal to participate in the “ZOMG $14 tees!!!” race-to-the-bottom, with the hope that customers would pay real prices for real t-shirts so that everybody could get paid.

But most importantly, we started Cotton Bureau to be a showcase for t-shirts featuring the absolute best in modern and unique graphic design and illustration, where quality, care, and attention-to-detail are paramount from the instant we receive a designer’s work to the moment their printed t-shirt reaches a happy customer. We may not always succeed, and we've certainly made our fair share of mistakes, but 365 days in, we think we’re on to something.

To celebrate our birthday, all t-shirts are $4 off for one day only (and don't worry, that $4 comes out of our cut, not the designers’). Also, we're giving away t-shirts all day on Twitter, so follow @cottonbureau for a chance at some awesome free tees.

If you’re reading this, there’s a better-than-average chance that you submitted a design to us in the past year, bought a tee from us, or (hopefully) both. Thanks for an awesome first year, everyone. There’s literally nothing we could do without you. Let’s take a look back at our first year together.