Launched last August, Creativ Culture is a soon to be e-commerce site that runs ‘China’s online t-shirt design contest’.  Of course the first thing I thought was, ‘Threadless of China’, but instead of labelling them a clone right away, I sat down this week to chat with the people behind the idea.

Daniel Meller (Founder) and Melody Won (Creative Director) are originally from California and both attended design school at UC Davis.  So why set up shop in China? “A company in New York is just another company, but in China we have a chance to be different.” Said Melody, who previously worked in fashion design in New York. For Daniel, making and selling t-shirts is a natural extension of what he has been doing since he was 14 years old when he sold surf and skate style t-shirts. “T-shirts are a great business because everyone wears them. It’s a billboard for yourself and what you believe in.

“Our shirts showcase work by cutting-edge Chinese designers, and wearing them shows your support for these talented up-and-comers. Our product appeals to the fashion forward consumer, people with unique taste who are ahead of mainstream fashion.  As opposed to buying a Louis Vuitton logo shirt, where you are really just branding yourself with a company’s vision.”

Creativ Culture follows the lead from super-star crowd-sourced t-shirt companies in America such as Threadless and designedbyhumans, which sell millions of shirts each year and are very profitable but have different styles. For Creativ Culture, they are trying to target 15-29 year old people who care about cool design. “We have a certain style we are trying to guide it towards – a graphic style that is as relevant in New York and London as it is in Beijing and Shanghai.”

“We are trying to get people to approach (Chinese design) through (modern) cultural themes.” Said Daniel.

So how does it all work? Firstly a theme such as ‘Music’ or ‘Chinese street snacks’ is announced on creativculture.com and various BBS for fashion and textiles to promote the competition.  Designers can submit a design using a template along with a title and description. The team reviews the designs to see if they are ‘printable’.  Currently about 15% of designs are rejected because they are incompatible with screen printing, for reasons such as having too many colors. Approved designs will enter the running of the competition where the public will vote for their favourites’ over a two week period. Finally the winner will be announced on the ending Friday. Immediately after announcing winner, the design will put up for sale on the online store where people can start purchasing within an hour. The product will begin shipping just a few days after contest close. The designers who place 1st, 2nd and 3rd are rewarded with a generous cash prizes and 5 runner-ups each receive gift vouchers. The only criterion to enter is that designers must have a Chinese bank account.

The most successful contest so far was the “Lantern Festival” where they received 120 submissions and 70 were eligible for winning. The contest attracted thousands of votes.

The t-shirts are screen-printed to ensure quality and endure many washes. They are priced at 100-150rmb. Although somewhat expensive for a t-shirt, Daniel is confident the quality is worth it. Also to encourage participation in the site, voters and designers will be rewarded with discounts the more they participate.

As for the business model, Daniel is confident the business will grow quickly.  “We sell a real product so it is a more immediately profitable internet business than building a huge community then trying to figure out how to monetize it. But Melody see’s the biggest challenge to the success of the business is “trying to encourage Chinese designers to come up with original creative design and convince them they can do it.” Daniel sees a deeper reason for Creativ Culture “A lot of the reason we are doing this is to challenge the fashion industry’s perception of guo nei, guo wai (Inside China/Outside China). We showcase the amount of incredible talent here at home, bring national and international attention to the young designers, and support them with funding for production and future projects.”

On building up the popularity of the site, Melody says “It’s really important to build an interactive community; we want people to vote and make comments and tell us what they like. That’s what crowd-sourcing is about – getting people’s opinions and feedback.” It seems in China crowd-sourcing hasn’t become incredibly popular compared to America, besides the group-buying sites. But as China becomes more open and extracts value from its increasing social-ness, crowd-sourcing could become the norm.

“In the future we want to increase the number of winners, expand our product range and establish retail stores” said Daniel. In this sense, Creativ Culture aims to build a brand that is synonymous with funky and original design.

The team is currently looking for a combination of investment capital as well as strong relationships and advice to take the business to the next level and expand faster.

Although t-shirts have not officially started selling, Daniel is excited to say “wait for our product, you are going to be very impressed!”