October 11, 2007 brett

Bob Nanna, director of promotions and public relations for the Threadless t-shirt company, in Chicago, graduated from the University of Illinois, and then he went on tour. As a touring musician for twelve years, Bob did some excellent networking. So excellent, in fact, that it allowed a seasonal packaging position to become what he is doing today. Bob’s degree in communications and advertising, in his opinion, was never meant to actually support a career; it was simply the quickest way to get out of school, and onto the road. Yet, as fate would have it, his degrees now allow him expertise in a field in which he never saw himself working.

Bob’s story is an important one, because often touring musicians are not seen as people who integrate well into society, after their touring dreams have expired. In Bob’s case, however, he never would have been able to get to the position he has, without having gone on tour. He is able to work with bands, for promotions and contests, because he knows the bands, and is able to communicate more efficiently with them. Although parents may not enjoy their children being told to go on tour as a way to better their careers, they will like Bob’s advice to his 23-year-old self. “I would beat myself up, take my credit cards, and slash them up.”

Threadless t-shirts are designed by a community of users, based on an award program. They can be found at Threadless.com.

INTERVIEW

My name is Bob Nanna and my position here is I set up all of the special promotions that we do with bands, events, and movies and stuff like that are above and beyond the actual t-shirt competition that takes place all the time.  That’s my main job and I also handle all of the press requests that come in and all of the sponsorship things we do with bands and promotions that we do with the bands as well.  And any kind of special contest giveaways that we do on the site as well. 

Noah: What kind of bands do you work with?

Pretty much the smaller indie bands.  Like the ones that could use the exposure.  But also some of the bigger bands.  Bands like Ted Leo and the Pharmacist and Iron and Wine.  Another one with this band called May.  I don’t know, just bands that we feel and I feel would appeal to our demographic pretty much is.

Cool.  What led you here?

What’s funny is that I was in a touring band for about twelve years.  I was just home for the holidays almost two years ago exactly and I needed some extra money for the holidays.  I put out a bulletin on Myspace to my friends saying I that I need a job to make some cash for the holidays.  One of my friends contacted me and said she worked at Threadless and needed people to help pack orders for the holidays.

I came in and got to know everyone.  Turns out I actually knew some people.  Most of the people here are from Chicago or around the area of Chicago.  We got along so well that they hired me.  I worked in the mailroom for awhile and then got promoted to doing what I’m doing now.  Pretty much since I did a lot of touring, I knew a lot of bands and stuff.  I had a lot of good contacts so that’s what they thought I’d be better off doing.

I feel better doing that as well.

Cool.  What’s your educational background?

I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Communications and Advertising.  But I didn’t ever plan on going into that field.  I just graduated with the easiest thing I could muster up so I could just go on tour immediately after graduation.  That’s what I did all through college.  All the breaks and everything I just left.  I just wanted to graduate.  It didn’t matter with what.  The thing I thought I might be best at, and the easiest thing I thought I could do with the least amount of effort.

We’re sort of traveling around the country and interviewing people who are passionate about their job.  We see where they were when they were 22 years old.  I feel like those questions are kind of worthless here because, how old are you?

I’m 32.  I’m one of the oldest people here.  The bosses are between 25 and 28, I think. 

Well, you graduate at 22.  Then you were touring. 

Yeah.

If you had to go back in time and give yourself a single piece of advice at 22 years old, what would it be?

Well, I would beat myself up and take my credit cards and like, slash them up.  Because I was in a touring band and I don’t know.  We didn’t really think about saving money or anything.  We spent beyond our means, whether it was with gas or food or just car, vans, equipment and stuff.  I didn’t really think of the consequences.

My advice would be to keep up with credit card payments.  I feel like I’m still paying for that.  And quite literally, I am.  But whatever.  That’s pretty much it.

As far as job direction, I’m totally happy with what I was doing, just like I’m totally happy with what I’m doing now.  So I wouldn’t really give myself any different advice for what to do professionally. 

We’ve got a graffiti artist that is going to be doing murals in the store we’re opening.  It’s opening two weeks from today.  So they’re all over there. 

You guys seem to be doing well.  Basically, I’m tired of being in a world where you have to be super professional and going to work.  How much of how successful this place is has to do with offering a genuinely good product and idea and not caring about the superficial bullshit.

I think it has almost everything to do with it.  It’s probably due to the fact that everyone here is pretty young and we’ve all had a little experience in working a job that we didn’t like, that we hated, and had to dress up and wear a tie and play the game and work for people who were mean and didn’t care about you.  So why would you care about them? Etc. 

From a work standpoint, having an atmosphere like this is just amazing for everyone that works here (laughs).  It’s just amazing for everyone who works here.  It creates this positive work environment.  Because of the fact that also, none of us had much business experience, per se, we just kinda came from a punk rock background.  The ethics behind punk rock, where it wasn’t really all about business, it was about creating a community. 

We still don’t do any advertising.  We’re pretty staunchly anti-advertising.  I don’t know.  I think it’s helped us keep closer to the people that come to the site.  We’re actually all part of the community that comes to the site constantly and blogging or whatever and interacting.  That’s really important. 

I mean, if we were sitting here in ties and kind of delegating things, we’d be pretty detached from the people who actually come to the site. 

Interesting.  So do you make t-shirts for lonely rappers from Tucson and California?

Uh, t-shirts you can wear?  Sure.  No sweat. 

The atrium. Murals all over the walls.  Cartoon cardboard cutouts.  Video games.  Books.  Flatscreens.  Graffitti all over the walls.  Darboards.  The Science of Sleep.  Threadless Party of Doom.  Models dressed in ridiculous garb.  Squirt guns and boas and an astronaut helmet.  Another manican has a football helmet.  Super punk rock.  Murals are based on the designs that will be coming out that week.  Pool table.  I love Threadless. 

This is actually an office.  Looks like a photo booth.  Charlie does podcasts in here.  From time to time he does interviews in here because bands are always coming through.

Loud Aesop Rock music with 20 temps packing shirts.  All of them wearing Threadless t-shirts.

“I feel like I’m not even cool enough to be in here.  I hate it when the temporary employee is way cooler than I am.”    

Graffitti is literally everywhere.  Every wall. 

I hate to even ask, but how many should we get? 

I don’t know, five or six?

Thank you.  You just saved me from doing laundry for a week.