One look at Cotton Bureau’s “Wall of Fame
” and you’ll understand what sets them apart from the rest. While the shirts’ designs are varied, the common theme of superior design is shared throughout the collection. The platform is completely custom-built (in-house) with no support from: Shopify, Demandware, Magento, or Big Commerce.
And that’s just the surface level. I’ve never seen a company of their scale accomplish so much with a $500k seed round (via Indie.vc
). Chalk it up to their midwest roots and cofounders who are both creative and technical. Here, you have a perfect storm competing in a tough eCommerce niche.
I first met Nathan Peretic
, Jay Fanelli
, and Michelle Sharp
at their new Pittsburgh headquarters. Launched in 2013, they’ve been operating in 800 sq. ft. until, well, this month. They have re-designed a former 5,000 sq. ft. warehouse space to usher in Cotton Bureau’s growth phase. Their pride is both palpable and deserving. The building’s energy was infectious and the paint hadn’t dried. With 18 employees (only eight who are full-time), they’ve already eclipsed their 2016 and Q1 2017
. When I last spoke to their soft-spoken CEO, he casually told me that they sold 24,000+ shirts in January and they aren’t slowing down.
Their high profile partners include: the no. 3 Podcast on iTunes (Pod Save America), Vox Media, Serious Eats, BuzzFeed, Propublica, Tapbots, and a certain @RogueNASA team.
Michelle Sharp on Cotton Bureau’s IP factory:
Designers and communities submit their t-shirt ideas, and Cotton Bureau evaluates them to see if they’re right for the site. If they make the cut—and only about 15% of submissions do—Cotton Bureau puts them on the site for a time-limited pre-order sale. Once the sale ends, we print all the shirts they need—in near-exact quantities—and ship them out. All shirts are printed in Pittsburgh. Cotton Bureau ships all shirts ourselves, and handles all the customer service (returns, refunds, exchanges, lost packages, etc.) forever.
With the platform that they’ve built for themselves (and the ability to grow on cash flow), their next step is what should be most exciting for the 2PML audience. They’re preparing to start producing their own American-made tee shirt blanks, themselves. Not only would this initiative begin to supply Cotton Bureau’s rabid fans, it could evolve into a business of its own.
Over the course of 2017, 2PML will feature a series on Cotton Bureau’s evolution from web design studio to eCommerce company to an increasingly equitable brand, representative of activism and ingenuity. They are durable enough to continue thriving in our ever-changing digital ecosystem, with 90-99% less funding than their competitors. Midwest founders are so resourceful.
See more of the issue here.