Spreadshirt: Fine-tuning a global company

Adobe’s Creative Cloud is helping the T-shirt giant Spreadshirt cater perfectly to the wishes of its customers around the world

An article by Sven Heitkamp and Christian Kortüm

The modern ambience of a beautifully restored 19th-century factory building enclosed within redbrick walls, historical steel structures and meter-high windows: Here in Leipzig’s boomtown of Plagwitz, behind facades exuding old industrial charm, resides one of the world’s most successful Internet platforms for customized T-shirts, other kinds of apparel, and accessories: Spreadshirt.

Founded by a pair of students 2002 as a tiny start-up, the hip enterprise now employs a workforce of almost 600 in six different countries, operates on 19 markets extending from the United States to Europe and Australia, and generates annual revenue north of €80 million. And the numbers have risen consistently for years.

Over 35,000 square feet of industrial history provide plenty of space for creative minds

Over 35,000 square feet of industrial history provide plenty of space for creative minds

But the success of this print-on-demand giant would be inconceivable without the minutely detailed precision work that the busy team in the chic production shop offices provide day in, day out. A dozen creative minds provide the artwork in the Asset Management Department alone. Their job: Teasing the ideas and worlds of images out of the minds of their customers, and using programs like Adobe’s Creative Cloud to fashion professional templates suitable for use in a variety of different printing procedures. And we went along for the ride.

Vanessa Gundermann, a 30-year-old graphic artist from the prestigious Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle, peers across at two monitors through the dark frames of her wide-rimmed glasses. Her right hand glides across the black surface of a graphics tablet, and between her slender fingers she clasps an electronic stylus. The next order for a new T-shirt announces itself with a satisfying plop in the in-house backend.

Graphic artist Vanessa loves her creative precision work.

Graphic artist Vanessa loves her creative precision work

Vanessa drags the sketched artwork into Adobe Illustrator CC for processing. The motif immediately appears blown up on the screen: a sneaker resplendent with dancing flames and ‘COMPARUNNERS’ lettering, the chosen logo of the running group at COMPAREX.

Now she will use her digital stylus to trace by hand all of the lines shown in the sketch, converting the image into a vector diagram for the so-called "flock print". She moves centimeter for centimeter along the stylized seams of the shoe. "This is the only way to draw sharp outlines and to make sure the motif really stands out on the clothes – without white fringing", explains Vanessa.

Sharp lines are handmade

Sharp lines are hand-made

This is because flock printing involves cutting the motif out of film. The colored strips are then "welded" onto the chosen product. Customers can pick up to three colors per motif. The printing process is particularly durable and high quality, as it possesses a velvety, material surface that appears slightly raised above its surface. Spreadshirt offers more than 20 film colors that are stored on the Artwork Department intranet. The house red seems almost predestined for Vanessa’s COMPAREX order. She will also have to find the matching font that best suits the template.

The installed Adobe Typekit has a huge library of fonts to help out here. The graphic artists also use the team chat feature in Skype to talk shop about new solutions. At the moment they are gradually getting the feel of other Cloud solutions by Adobe.

Chuck Norris is a popular figure among customers and in the company, too

Chuck Norris is not only a hit on shirts

They hold workshops to implement new workflows step for step, as the team quite simply hasn’t found a quiet moment to become familiar with the complex systems on offer.

It takes Vanessa roughly half an hour of precision work to complete the sneakers and their logo. Then the designer saves the motif ready for printing, and uploads it back to the customer’s account. For €14.95, the customer will receive an ideal template to print T-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, high-visibility clothing, and even underwear. But however much that sounds like simple, technical work, it would never be possible without the creative minds of the graphic artists. "I really enjoy working here. I can contribute my expertise and ideas to ensure the best possible design of the customers’ motifs", says Vanessa.

Month for month, the team in the Artwork Department is inundated with motifs from all over the world, says Hannes Döring. The 31-year-old started out working part-time at Spreadshirt over 10 years ago, while still a student. Today the business engineer is in charge of the Asset Management Department and his eleven colleagues in Leipzig and two others in the United States. After all, Spreadshirt has other production sites in the East Coast cities of Greensburg and Boston, and one in Brazil. To receive finished artwork, the customers are only asked to upload simple sketches or photos along with a brief description. It takes the artwork wizards just days to create a printable template that can even be corrected on request.

In total, roughly 30 employees at Spreadshirt use solutions by Adobe Creative Cloud for Teams, which give them access to joint files at any time, wherever they happen to be.

Hannes Döring – Head of Asset Management at Spreadshirt

Hannes Döring – Head of Asset Management

The IT Department decides to what extent the employees receive applications and updates, and how frequently the updates are installed. This means that the Artwork Department always has its fingers on the latest versions, for instance of Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC, or InDesign CC. Here, Spreadshirt trusts in the expertise provided by the license specialist COMPAREX, also based in Leipzig, which led to a switch from the "Individual Cloud" to the "Team Cloud". This ensures central, convenient management, flexible allocation, and uniform terms of the license subscriptions.

In addition, the Asset Management Department looks after the entire technical and legal review of uploaded motifs, filtering out potential copyright infringements alongside any racist content. The customer wishes are not put through the machines and sent on their way until this review is complete. There are over 37,000 square feet of production space in Leipzig alone, and more in Poland. Additional space was added recently in the Czech Republic.

After all, 70,000 providers from all over the world that use Spreadshirt to print their products want to reliably service their customers.

"Spreadshirt", says the English CEO Philip Rooke, "helps people all over the world to sell their ideas, to organize merchandising, and to make money – no matter whether it’s a YouTube popstar or an automotive corporation, a games developer, or an international aid organization".

Hand-made by Spreadshirt

Hand-made by Spreadshirt

And the business has the potential to grow into the billions. Spreadshirt will be looking to conquer the market with the help of creative solutions from Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Teams.

Leipzig, 12/18/2015

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Video language: German with English subtitles

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