Shirts and Merch

ByJoCo February 5, 2007

I frequently get emails from people with ideas for shirts, towels, mugs, mousepads, etc. The only thing stopping me from turning them all into a vast and profitable line of JoCo merchandise is the amount of time it takes to set up and organize all the products in CafePress. Here’s what I want:

1. Some way that anyone in the world can upload graphics and design a new product in my store.

2. That product becomes available for everyone else to buy (subject to my approval, just so the graphic isn’t a picture of me without my pants on or something like that). I’d even share some revenue if there was a way to do that, but mostly this is so that I make money and you get the shirts you want.

3. On my site, images of all the products, linked to the songs they’re related to, ordered by popularity, grouped by color, whatever. A vast, ever-changing, user-created treasure trove of merchandise that doesn’t create more work for me.

I spent some time this weekend trying to figure out how to do this. Spreadshirt has an option where the customer can choose their shirt color during checkout, and they have something called a “Designer Spreadshop” that supposedly gives users access to the same shirt design tools that store owners use to design products – I think this would work. But they charge $999 to set this up, which seems a little pricey to me.

CafePress is where all my stuff is now, and they don’t even really have a great collection of shirt colors, let alone something like this. They do have an API, which some people have used to do interesting things. Click-shirt is one of those things, and it comes close, but I’d have to make my CafePress password public, and then you would all steal my money.

I suppose there are some thorny IP issues here, which is probably why this doesn’t exist. Probably nothing that a draconian user agreement wouldn’t solve – I own everything you submit forever, if you infringe on copyright I’m not responsible, etc. But sheesh, I think it would be pretty excellent. Anybody know of some way to do this? Anybody dying to jump into the CafePress API?


Shannon says

Oh come on. You don't trust us with your money? :-)

Mike says

Well, what you could do is find a team of one or more trusted volunteers. You could modify your website to allow people to upload pictures and link them to songs. You could then approve the pictures and have your team of volunteers update the cafe press site. And then have your web site modified so that when people looked at the song pages, they could see pictures/merch linked to them. If you didn't want the bandwith yourself, you could have the people load the pictures to flickr and then just link to them.

If you trust your team of volunteers enough, you could allow them to approve the pictures.

And there's no reasonb why you can't have both a cafe press and a lulu account.

jadelennox says

I'd be willing to be a member of a team of trusted volunteers, although I know I wouldn't be efficient enough to be a sole or an organizing volunteer. One of the reasons I would be happy to volunteer is because I would be adamantly pushing getting all the designs available on the fairly traded T-shirts (Café press and most of the equivalents offer American Apparel as options).

JoCo says

True - humans could do this work, but it always bugs me when the possibilities are there but nobody's written the code yet. And that's also on my list to figure out how to allow people to upload their own stuff into some kind of gallery. I suppose it's time to admit that I need someone else to be attacking this list of site stuff so I can focus on music (and maybe, I don't know, write another song someday)...

Randal C. says

For the time being, it sounds as if an assistant is the way to go. That way your assistant could handle the day-to-day operations of your media empire (JoCo magazine, for instance), and you could write songs.

matt says seems to be trying a sort of mashup of threadless and CafePress printed (inkjet presumably, or screened) directly on the (american Apparel) shirts

Spiff says

That Click-shirt app is pretty sweet.

Wilson Fowlie (aka CuriousMind) says

Have you looked at I don't know if it'll solve all the problems, but it's yet another possibility...

Dan Coulter says

The API looks like it wouldn't be too terrible to work with. If you don't have a better answer in a week or two, after I've finished up a couple of projects, I can see what kind of a front-end I can work up. Maybe I can cook it into a WP plugin.

dirkk says

Jonathan, I hate to be the first to say tell you.

But it seems you made a full round trip from being a software developer to a professional musician back to ...

Nah, just kidding.

Kristen says

Sounds like you need some free labor. I say it's time to bring your daughter into the family business.

Eric says

I second the suggestion of Not sure if it's flexible enough to meet all the criteria you've outlined, but it's definitely worth a look. They also provide a bit of html which, when patched into your site, automatically creates a gallery which cycles through all the available designs (see the lower right corner of my homepage at

Kerrin says

If you are looking for free labor, I will help in anyway I can.

Mike says

That has to be the coolest forum spam I've ever seen. Still, to 43f: diaf.

Scott says

Mike, before you wish 43 folders a fiery death, thats called a trackback post, not spam. They can be disabled in the WordPress control panel, but generally people seem not to mind them.

Mike says

I see. So, besides add gibberish to a conversation, what exactly does a trackback post do?

Len says

Whatever you decide, I would be more than happy to contrribute designs to your store. I need a Coulton Art fix!

Damon says


Trackbacks allow people to find other conversations about a given topic. If Slashdot links to a weblog, you might be interested in what they're saying.

It works best when blogs with large readerships trackback to smaller blogs.

Ben says

JC - I think many here would be glad to volunteer if it got you to write more songs.

Of course you then have to perform and record them, but you get the idea. :)

Jennifer says

Hey Jonathan - I actually almost used Zazzle once to make a shirt emblazoned with the "bonus" softcover book illustration of The Areas of My Expertise. Sure, I was bored and at work, but also: nothing says "needs to be screened on a woman's skin-tight tiny tee" quite like a big dragon and a floating Hodgman head.

Sadly, reality set in when I realized my silly shirt would cost near 30 bucks. The cost is high, which may mean less of a cut for you (and we want to fund you, not Zazzle). But the other folks were right, their website is really easy to use and very cool...

Mac says

Hi Jonathan,

If you or one of your trusted friends is a web designer, you could tell a programmer what features you want at, and get it for free.

The idea being you, the designer and the programmer could then share the proffits if you sell it as a program others could use for their tshirt and other stuff-making endeavors.

I have a friend who did it for his pseudo-social bookmarking site, and he's very happy with the result.

jeevs sinclair says

you might give a try ...


Becky says

Maybe a site like They sell all user-designed shirts, that you vote on, and those that get the most votes get printed off and sold. They do band-associated shirt design contests all the time, though I'm not sure what that all entails. But it's a thought. And I've bought a couple of shirts from them, they're nicely done, high quality stuff.

Eric Ginsberg says

Yeah, good call...I would TOTALLY steal all your money.

daniel fox says

hey. I'm working on an open-source, mash up, contest, split-comission thing at skreened. It's just a matter of time. We're still pretty small though, so it may take a little while. But i'm open to any help if someone wants to work with us on it. Send me an email everyone!

daniel fox