Whilst I was in Berlin for T-Shirt Day it seemed like a great idea to hop on the ICE train (which isn’t as cool as it sounds) and head 100 miles south of the capital to the city of Leipzig to check out Spreadshirt’s much-larger-than-I-expected HQ and production facility. If any of you are wondering, “who the devil are these Spreadshirt folks?” Well, they’re the largest (I think) print-on-demand supplier in Europe, and they also have offices and production in America, meaning that whichever side of the Atlantic you’re on you can get a high-quality customised tee pretty darn quick. I actually have a tee from 2004 that I bought from Spreadshirt (yeah, I was all about the tees even before I started HYA!) that’s still going strong, so they really do know how to make tees, and presumably they’re even better quality now.
Upon getting off the train in Leipzig’s beautiful station I was met by Adam from Tee Junction who was going to act as my tour guide to the city, and I don’t think he’d actually had a tour of the new Spreadshirt facility as he had left the company before they moved in, so the day wasn’t a waste for him, hopefully. I always say that the best way to get a feel for a city is to walk through it, you don’t see much when you take public transport (especially if it’s underground, obviously), so we walked from the station to Spreadshirt through the lovely old centre of the city and the huge park to the more industrial side of the city. One strange thing about Leipzig is that there are a lot of abandoned buildings in the city because of vast numbers of people (around 500,000 people in a city of 1 million) leaving the city after the collapse of the wall and re-unification of Germany, many of those people never returned, meaning that there is lots of unoccupied space. Even just across the road from Spreadshirt’s freshly-renovated building there was a really nice building that had clearly received no love for many years and sat empty. According to Adam this situation means that rents in the city a very low not only for housing but for business as well, so people will set up businesses as a hobby that are only open for a few days a month, it’s a strange concept to me, but I like it.
As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, it’s pretty easy to spot the Spreadshirt building because it’s covered in everyone’s favourite item of clothing. Apparently you don’t need to give taxi drivers the address to Spreadshirt because they all know about “the building with the t-shirts on it.” It’s pretty hard to miss as well, seeing as it takes up a whole block.
Eike (seen here
on the right at T-Shirt Day Berlin) decided we should start our tour on the top roof deck of the building, giving us a good view over the city. The weather hasn’t treated them too well so far this year so the roof decks haven’t seen much use, but they hope to use them for events when it starts to heat up. I might be wrong in remembering this, but I’m pretty sure that the roof deck spaces (there’s more than one) if combined would actually be larger than their old offices, which shows how much of a step up the move was for them.
We then moved down to a meeting room/kitchen/break room, passing a couple of guys playing table tennis on the way, from the looks of the league on the wall next to the table these guys get pretty serious about the table tennis competitions. Can you believe that the kitchen above is in a t-shirt companies offices? It looks like it should be in a showroom!
What self-respecting internet company could have offices and not have a foosball table?
This meeting space shows how light and airy the building is, I think that they might have more room than they know what to do with!
This picture obviously doesn’t illustrate it particularly well, but in one of the receptions they have a life-size model of Batman, Eike didn’t seem to really know why it was there, but I’m sure that it’s an important addition to every office.
I remember Adam being pretty excited about the addition of Fatboy chairs/bean bags to the office, and wondered why they weren’t there back in his day.
In one of the larger offices, because the ceilings are so high they were having problems with noise and echoes, the innovative solution to this problem was right under their nose, t-shirts! They hung a load of t-shirts up and now they help to stop the noise bouncing around the room.
These pieces of wall art are made of t-shirts they printed in the factory and stretched around frames, which I thought was a really cool idea. Some of you may recognise the broken up image as one of the finalists for the Open Logo Competition that Spreadshirt held to find their new logo.
This is the returns room. You’re probably quite alarmed by the amount of items in there, but I couldn’t actually see anything technically wrong with the couple of items I picked up. I get the feeling that a lot of people just return items when they receive them because the message that they thought would be funny on a tee really isn’t, or they made an error when picking the fonts and colourway. I get that feeling because most of the returns I picked up were really badly designed.
This returned tee that Adam found made me a bit sad, because why would return a tee that says “I [heart] my boyfriend” when there’s nothing wrong with the tee. A lot of the returned tees get given away to charity, and staff are regularly allowed to rummage around and take them too, so presumably most of the people at Spreadshirt have really weird t-shirt collections.
Along this corridor only about half of the office spaces were occupied because they still haven’t worked out what to do with the rooms, I think some of the ideas thrown around included a studio for recording video (there was already a photo studio along the corridor) and maybe even a room just for playing Wii in. It must be cool having all this space that they have to think up cool stuff to do with rather than having cool ideas with nowhere to implement them.
A lot of the offices and rooms in the building have been given names, sometimes the names have a purpose, and sometimes they make no sense at all. I was disappointed to hear that this room doesn’t glow in the dark…
And here she is, the production floor. As you can see, it is a large space, filled with lots of Germans working in a stereotypically efficient and hard-working manner.
I think that these guys might have even more tees than I do!
This machine is one of about six (I can’t remember how many) that print/cut the designs on the various vinyls and foils that Spreadshirt offer, each machine has been given a name (this one is called ‘John’), presumably just to cut down on confusion between machines rather than just being cute.
These are the people that remove the ‘scrap’ vinyl from each sheet leaving just the bits of vinyl that are to be pressed onto the shirt. The rate at which they worked was really impressive, I’m sure if I were to do it there would be an awful lot of prints being thrown into the rejects bin.
These people check over every item before it leaves the factory to ensure it meets quality control standards.
Whilst it isn’t a large part of their business, Spreadshirt do have a DTG (direct-to-garment) printing machine, and it was really cool to see it in action as I’ve never witness it before. It’s basically a really big inkjet printer, which you think actually makes the process less interesting since I’d presume most of you are reading this post with a printer a couple of feet away from you, but it was fascinating watching a design appear on a t-shirt with each pass of the print head. The printed t-shirt then goes through a large dryer (to the left, out of shot), which I think can best be described as a jumbo-sized version of one of those toasters that you only ever see in hotels where you put your bread on to a conveyor belt and the toast comes out the other end.
As we were leaving the production facility Eike pointed out the test lab where they put every item in the store through it’s paces. The rather bedraggled tee you can see above is the cheapest t-shirt they sell, and it has been put through 100 wash and dry cycles, so it’s hardly a surprise that it’s not looking too good, though the print seems to have held up fairly well.
I’ve missed out on some of the office space, partially because I don’t like taking pictures of random people (even though Eike told me it was okay) and partly because a lot of the pictures I took came out pretty poorly, so if you were thinking that it didn’t seem as big as I was describing it, there’s quite a lot more offices, and a lot more people, than you can see in the photos. After the tour Adam and I caught a tram back into the centre of the city (unfortunately it wasn’t one of the Cold War era relics that I’d seen rolling around, but trams are always fun) and went for ice cream…
… and beer. You know how when you go into a restaurant in America you automatically get given water? They have the same kind of thing in Germany except you get beer. Okay, that isn’t strictly true, but it sure does feel like it. We were later joined by Evan Eggers (who, if you remember, I’d met the day before at T-Shirt Day) for another beer before I headed back to Berlin on the train. Good times!
Thanks to Adam and Eike for guiding me around the city and the Spreadshirt HQ (aka ‘T-Shirt Geek Disneyland’)!