Jordan Schiller from Real Thread Talks About T-Shirts as Ministry Tools


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jordan_schiller_realthreadJordan Schiller is a part of the leadership team at Real Thread. This is fantastic conversation as we chat about how t-shirts can be a ministry tool. Real Thread produces hundreds of thousands of shirts every year and in this conversation we dive into what they’ve learn from using apparel to help churches communicate with people. Today’s conversation is a bit different than a normal week at unSeminary but we think the conversation is packed full with insights to help your church!

Episode Highlights

00:35 // Rich welcomes Jordan to the show.

00:55 // Rich talks about how Liquid Church partners with Real Thread and the value of the t-shirts they give away.

02:08 // Jordan talks about the quality of the t-shirts at Real Thread and the techniques they use.

03:14 // Rich relates the t-shirts to an investment; he wants to make sure people wear them.

04:12 // Jordan talks about the true cost and value of the t-shirts.

06:00 // Jordan talks through the three key elements of a good t-shirt.

09:37 // Rich talks about the research Liquid Church did to determine the type of t-shirts they wanted.

10:20 // Rich and Jordan discuss the success in keeping the design simple

12:41 // Rich talks about using 99designs as an alternative to having a designer on staff.

14:46 // Jordan talks about the history of Real Thread.

16:33 // Rich tells unSeminary premium members to expect a gift from Real Thread this Christmas.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // YouTube and Podcasting

Organizations Following // Crowd Funding – Teespring and Cotton Bureau

Influential Book // Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

What does he do for fun? // Hanging out with his wife and surfing


Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody it’s Rich from the unSeminary podcast. Thanks so much for listening in, I’m so glad. You could have listened to a lot of things this morning and I’m so glad that you’ve decided to put us in your earbuds today. Happy Thursday, I hope things are going well at your church as we head into this weekend.

Today I’ve got a new friend, somebody I’m excited to have on the show with us. We’ve got Jordan Schiller from Real Thread which is an organization that makes apparel and you’re like, “Why are we talking with someone who makes t-shirts?” But you’re going to hear in a minute, Jordan welcome to the show.

Jordan – Thanks Rich, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Rich – Real Thread’s an organization that we partner with at Liquid, we buy literally thousands of t-shirts a year from these guys and I just thought it would be great to have Jordan on to talk a little bit about apparel and t-shirts and how that fits well into the church world.

Just before we jump in with Jordan I want to tell you some of the different ways that we’ve used their products. We’ve talked about this in the past, our kind of first-time guests, we call them ‘new’ here. Folks that are new here, we give them a free t-shirt every weekend. We also do free t-shirts for our volunteers. So we do kind of normal t-shirts and then ones for our kids and then whenever we do a special event we also turn around a great t-shirt for folks. I’m super passionate about that, I think a great t-shirt is a great way to communicate your brand and people love it. There is a weird disproportionate value thing, I’ve said before, the actual cost of the t-shirt is lower than the value that people ascribe to when they get it.

So that’s kind of why we’re talking about this today and I’m excited to have Jordan on the phone. Jordan why don’t you tell us a little bit about Real Thread and about you? What do you guys do?

Jordan – Yeah that’s a great question. Real Thread is a screen printing company and we specialize in water based and discharge printing. Your industry standard t-shirt has a plastisol ink on it, which is ink that sits on top of the fabric, rather than soaking into the fibers of the shirt. So it’s not as high quality and it can crack and peel and it’s like a two or three dollar shirt that you can kind of pick up from anybody.

At Real Thread what we do is water based and discharge printing and that print technique is in the ink itself, it’s still screen printing. That ink then soaks into the fabric of the shirt so it’s a nice super, super soft shirt with the super soft print that lends itself to a little bit higher quality, a shirt that someone’s actually going to want to wear. Then as you know, when someone actually wants to wear the shirt then we’re apt to talk about the shirt, have conversation, even start to develop some community around the shirt.

Rich – Absolutely.

Jordan – So that’s really kind of what we’re all about here at Real Thread.

Rich – Yeah it’s funny, I’ve joked in the past with other folks. I’ve said that other kind of printing, I always joke, it’s kind of like the breastplate of righteousness. Putting on this t-shirt, by definition you wear a t-shirt on a hot day. If you wear that t-shirt on a hot day you’re like sweating underneath of it and it’s just like nasty. But a part of what I love about your process is the t-shirts do come out super soft. They’re the kind of thing that people want to wear.

The reality of it is, when you spend a lot of money, which if you take anything and times it by a few hundred, it ends up becoming a big investment, ultimately I want to make sure that people wear it. If we’re going to pay for it let’s make something that people will actually wear outside of when we tell them or ask them to wear the shirt.

Obviously this is a bit of a premium product so is there a typical cost differential between that and the normal breast plated righteousness shirt?

Jordan – Yeah honestly pricing is so different based on: 1) the shirt that you’re ordering, 2) your design specs – is it one color, is it two color? How many colors are you putting on the shirt? So there really isn’t like a good average.

For someone like yourself and someone like Liquid Church, who’s ordering large amounts of these shirts, the prices that you’re getting them at are very, very, very competitive when you’re comparing a high quality shirt to a plastisol shirt. Honestly the price point isn’t too different.

It’s really tough to narrow it down and say, “Hey it’s going to be about an extra two to three dollars per shirt,” just because it’s so variant on the shirt that you’re ordering. Then the print spec, so you’re going to be printing on the shirt. Just the value of what you’re going to get out of it and just getting that shirt that someone’s actually going to want to wear, that’s the true value, that’s the true cost of the shirt right there.

Rich – Yeah totally. If you give them a shirt that they don’t wear it doesn’t matter how much you’ve spent on it. Even if you’ve spent a dollar on it, which you can’t get a dollar shirt, but even if you spent a dollar on it, that’s just like throwing money in the garbage.

Jordan – Absolutely.

Rich – I’m sure people come to you and they give you designs and you’re like, “Okay well we’ll print that on it, sure,” because that’s your business. But if you could give kind of the inside skinny, what should churches be thinking about when they’re printing on shirts, or really any apparel? What should they be thinking through from a design point of view? Not necessarily like this is the hot color right now but just some general principles around that, what would you say to people?

Jordan – That’s a great question and to answer that question I think talking about kind of a trend that’s happening right now in businesses and in churches as well is, if you don’t have a good design you’re going to suffer as a church or as a business. People look to design and say, “Hey this is authentic, this is genuine, someone actually cares about me,” because they’ve put the time into creating a great slide for worship, music, creating a great bulletin, creating a great poster that’s talking about an upcoming series or even creating a great t-shirt. One of the trends that we’re seeing is because of Real Thread we now give organizations and churches the opportunity to have a retail quality shirt by using the water based and discharge printing.

So I guess just with that, more and more people are realizing and understanding, “Hey I need this quality of the shirt to show my customers, to show my audience that I genuinely and authentically care about who they are as individuals and as humans.”

The thing I think gets the design or the t-shirt to become retail quality is a variation of three different things. Your design, you have to have a good design. It can’t just be bold text across the shirt, something created like that. You have to spend a little bit of time on the design of the shirt. The other two things are the super soft shirt, making sure that the shirt itself is actually going to be fitting on the audience the way you want it fitting, it’s going to feel soft. Then the third thing, that’s going to be the printing, making sure that the print turns out exactly how the designer wanted it to turn out.

Those three elements are kind of the key elements, to even designing a good t-shirt you’ve got to start with a good design. Then even focusing on the design side a little bit, we’ve really noticed that the simpler designs typically do the best and simpler meaning like the number of colors, is it one or two colors or is it all over the map?

Then the number of locations as well. A lot of times we get people who want to do four of five different locations and they’ll want one on the top, one on both sleeves, one on the back, a custom printed tag and it’s a little overkill. So we’ve really noticed the simpler the designs, although still creative and engaging with the audience, the more apt someone is going to be to actually put on the shirt.

That’s something that, whoever you guys have got designing over at Liquid Church does an absolutely phenomenal job at designing. They’re great pieces, they’re one or two colors. You guys normally do a one or two thumb print with the sleeve print. I can only imagine that everyone at your church is probably loving to wear that shirt. You can price that better than I can.

Rich – Yeah they are. It’s taken us a while, I used to joke t-shirts are now our core competency, like we would do t-shirts and it was like, “Gosh they just did not turn out well.” I think we’ve got better as we’ve done more and we’ve learned more about what people like and we’ve taken the feedback.

A couple of things that we did, to kind of shift and change and try to get better at that, we actually would actively go out and like, “Let’s go into American Eagle…” or in whatever company, because they’ve spent a lot of time, effort and energy on figuring out what sells and actually the fact that it’s on the shelf in our local mall, by definition tells you it’s selling, because it’s already weeded out. So we thought, “Is there a way we could take what they’re doing there and kind of mix it, is there something we could pick up on a theme there?”

I think the other thing we’ve learned is, we used to be super concerned about having to say everything in the shirt, as opposed to like, no it’s okay if it’s a logo or it’s kind of saying one thing. It doesn’t need to be this all-encompassing piece, it’s not your only communication piece obviously, which I think has taken some of the pressure off it and because we’ve switched to doing a couple of t-shirts a year, rather than pushing for one. We’ll joke with people, “Hey if you don’t like it it’s okay, six months from now it’s going to change, it will be okay.”

Jordan – So you have found success as well in keeping the design simple rather than trying to portray the whole message. Maybe even use it as a conversation starter like, “Wow that’s a really cool shirt, where did you get that shirt?” “Well I got it from my church,” you know and just the ability to have that retail quality shirt, like you just mentioned, going out to the mall and saying, “Hey this is what’s selling, where can I get this?” Five years ago you wouldn’t have been able to do that, your only solution was plastisol ink. Now with the water based that can really become a reality.

Rich – Absolutely and I think there’s another… You guys don’t offer design services to people right? Will you actually do that?

Jordan – We can take designs that have been worked on and either factorize them, clean them up a little bit, change certain elements. We really don’t offer design services. One of the reasons is just culturally trending as a country, as organizations. Most organizations if they don’t have a designer onboard then again they’re not creating that authentic material but they need to be creating in order to have the audience or the user, the attendee feel loved at the end of the day.

So we really try and pair up with designers and work with people who have an eye, have a knack for that but we’ll definitely clean up some work and even sometimes try and make a concept of an art or design come together and actually create it. But that’s not our main gauge.

Rich – I get that. A couple of years ago we were pinched, we do have a couple of designers on staff but we were pinched. It was just super busy and we needed to get a new t-shirt out and we actually did the 99designs thing.

So for folks that are listening that aren’t aware of this, there’s an organization on the web called 99designs. It’s a marketplace for freelance designers and they make it really easy to go in, you can go in and basically fill out a creative brief. It’s a couple of hundred bucks and what they do is a whole bunch of designers will start giving you designs and then you can work with a couple of them, refine it down and then export and say, “Yeah I’ll take that one.” We actually had pretty good success with that, it actually worked out pretty well. So that’s an idea for someone who’s on staff or listening in who does not have a volunteer or somebody who can do design work for you.


So obviously the designs important, the actual shirt itself is important and then the printing, which you’ve come back to, you know the water based printing. What else are you guys finding? Is there anything else you’re finding as you’re working with people, maybe outside of t-shirts, do you guys do anything beyond just t-shirts or do you do other types of apparel as well?

Jordan – Yes we definitely do other types of apparel but we really try and hone in and stick to only doing apparel. So there’s other printing companies that venture into mugs, Frisbees, flyers, posters, stuff like that but because we want to be the best at what we do, we’ve really decided we’re just going to stick to apparel and those main key apparel elements are hoodies, sweatshirts, tank tops and t-shirts. Those are the four main categories that we’ll stick to.

Rich – Very cool. Alright just a couple of last questions before we jump into the lightning round. Can you give us a sense of the Real Thread story, where did you guys come from? I have a sense of what you do today but actually what’s your story?

Jordan – The Real Thread story, like any good story it started with a problem. Drew Dalton who’s our active CEO and founder, he went to college here in Orlando at UCF and he was in a fraternity. In that fraternity they were ordering shirts there all the time. He really wasn’t satisfied with the shirts that they were ordering. He noticed that they were plastisol, they weren’t really like you would see in a retail store. So he was like, “We can make these shirts so much better. There are better shirts out there, why can’t our shirts be like this.”

So he did a little bit of research and learned that the main factor of that was water base and discharge, having a super soft shirt, as far as the shirt and the printing goes as well and that’s what the water based printing does.

So Drew got some printing equipment, flew out to, I think it was Seattle, trained, learned how to use it and by the time he got back he had accepted a thousand piece order without really knowing what to do.

So that’s kind of where it started, moving from a thousand square foot warehouse to a 35 hundred square foot warehouse to now we’re in a 15 thousand square foot warehouse with three different presses, we got a great team.

It started with that problem like, “Hey, how come businesses and organizations and churches can’t have a retail quality product?” Then finding that solution to that problem.

Rich – Very cool. Well for folks that are unSeminary premium members and one of the things I’m super excited about is this Christmas our friends at Real Thread are going to be giving you a gift, a t-shirt. I’m so passionate about what they do, I think they do such a great job and they’ve agreed to give everybody who’s a premium member this year that. It’s going to get packaged up with a whole bunch of other stuff and we’re sending it out in just in a couple of weeks as we head into Christmas. So you’re going to get a sample to see.

Again that’s just for premium members, so not everybody who listens to the podcast is going to get one but we’re just super excited about that and I just thank you so much for doing that Jordan, that’s going to be a great gift for our folks. So thank you for that.


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.