There's a magical place on the North Texas prairie, where jolly elves sing merry worksongs as they conjure enchanted t-shirts from sparkling fairy dust. This story is not about that place. No, we're going somewhere altogether more gritty and fume-ridden, a manic hive of furious activity, where burly workers struggle and sweat and silkscreen. Ride with us now on a journey to the Shirt.Woot spilling floor...
I think it needs a little more nutmeg.
Around The Corner, Shirts Are Made
We'll start with the color-separating process, because nothing is more visually scintillating than a guy sitting at a computer. This is where our t-shirt wrangler, Thomas, takes the artist's Adobe Illustrator file and breaks it down one color a a time. Holla!
Each color then gets its very own transparency print-out. If we do it for one of them but not the others, the colors get jealous and argue.
Before we go any further, Thomas has to put a screen together, using this gnarly pneumatic table to stretch the screen on the frame until it begs for mercy.
Careful, Thomas. This is a potentially hazardous part of the process.
Those transparencies we saw earlier are painstakingly arranged for transfer to the screens, using artisanal techniques that have not changed since the Bronze Age.
Let's coat the screen in photo-reactive gunk, throw it in this machine, and see what develops.
The result: a screen for one color of this design.
Whoops, let's try that again.
Now, before we can use all these screens, we have to mix up the right colors. Virtually any color you want can be yours by mixing varying proportions of a dozen base inks. Thomas has painstakingly weighed out the right amounts of each color, to achieve a certain orange we're looking for. Don't worry: this ink never dries out. It's made up of tiny little plastic granules or something, we're told.
Initiate bad-ass mixer gun!
Any extra glops of ink wind up in Jackson Pollock's trashcan.
Then it's off to the printing room next door, where deputy shirt wrangler Craig loads them onto the octopus-like shirt press for inking. Continuity error: these are not the same serpent shirts that Thomas was making the screens for. While he does that, Craig is printing the previous day's koi shirt.
Shirts are moved into place with fascist precision...
...for the machine to drag its mecha-squeegees across the screen, pushing ink through and onto the waiting shirt below. Trust me, it's even more magical in person.
A light flash-dries the ink with the fury of a thousand suns.
After that, our Passport robot (which we think might be the only one in Texas, because it's expensive and not strictly necessary and it didn't make that much sense for us to buy it) delicately picks up each corner of the shirt.
The Passport drops said shirt onto the dryer's conveyor belt. And it does it fast. Robot fast.
The dryer's kinda like the sandwich-toasting machine at Quizno's. Getcha hot, fresh shirts here! But don't touch that plastic mesh conveyor belt. It burns.
Shirts go into the folding machine naked, and come out spiffed to the nines in a natty Shirt.Woot bag.
The bags are packed into boxes, then into bigger boxes, then wrapped up in cellophane, placed on a pallet, and sealed with a kiss. Here, they wait at the second-floor loading door. Don't jump, shirts! You've got too much to live for!
On the first floor, up rolls a forklift to whisk the shirts off the ledge and out of our damned lives. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.
Finally, a pristine copy of the latest shirt is tacked up on our Wall of Garment Majesty. Make sure you're not bringing along any unwanted stowaways - vermin like to hide in those things.
How many shirts does it take to get to the center of Shirt.Woot? In the tradition of the great Charles and Ray Eames short film Powers of Ten (hey, might as well steal from the best), let's "zoom out" from one shirt, to give you an idea of just how many shirts it takes to bring this whole mess to life. OK, here's one Large brown Woot Tee, American Apparel style #2001.
Multiply that by 96...
...and you have one box of shirts.
Now, here are nine shirt boxes, which don't really represent anything in particular but make a nice photo.
Multiply that many times over, for a single row of shirts in our shirt warehouse area.
Finally, multiply that row by five, to grasp the vastness of the known Woot Tee universe. The devastatingly handsome human model is included for size-comparison purposes. Sorry ladies, he's taken.
The Human Sizing Chart
Despite our most valiant efforts to edify and instruct the public, many of our members are still confounded by one question: which size shirt to order? We see an opportunity to both advance understanding about this vital issue and publicly humiliate one of our employees. Woot Creative Director Dave Rutledge stands at a solid 6'0" and weighs about 175 (more like 170 if he's had a haircut recently), which we figure puts him near the average for a contemporary American adult male. Dave graciously agreed to emerge from his underground bunker and wear one shirt of each size, depicted below with Women's Small on the left, progressing to 2XL on the right. Dave's own preferred size? Medium, fifth from left. Click the image to see a bigger one.
But what does it all mean? What does all that equipment represent in hard dollars-and-cents terms? Or, more importantly, in iPhone-and-Camry terms? Let's start humbly, with one canister of ink. Approximate cost equivalent: two upper-deck tickets to watch the Columbus Blue Jackets play the Nashville Predators. (Those are hockey teams, if you were wondering.)
We're not sure what we're going to do with this rolling cart, but it's a handsome, sturdy piece of metal on wheels, and you can never have too many of those. Approximate cost equivalent: two iPhones.
That pneumatic table we saw earlier? We don't recommend getting one for your home. It'll set you back quite a bit, and you can't even play Stratego on it. Approximate cost equivalent: one hour with New York's most exclusive female escort.
It's not cheap to print oversized transparencies with the kind of precision we need, but what choice do we have? Approximate cost equivalent: a used Vespa scooter in reasonably good condition. And the Mountain Dew can isn't even included.
The developing machine will quickly develop a huge crater in your bank account. Approximate cost equivalent: 12 ounces of Almas caviar.
At that price, our behemoth shirt dryer seems like a bargain, at least in terms of sheer size. Approximate cost equivalent: a new roof on a 2-bedroom bungalow.
For slightly more, you can add a high-powered screen washer to go with your shirt dryer, if you're mentally ill or something. Approximate cost equivalent: a 2008 Toyota Camry, base model, no frills.
The more gentle you want your robots to behave, the more expensive they're going to be. Take our Passport robot, the one that moves the shirts from the press to the dryer. It doesn't work for peanuts. Approximate cost equivalent: one courtside season ticket to see the L.A. Clippers.
Folding and bagging is boring and tedious. So we bought a machine to do it. Maybe we do have more money than sense. Approximate cost equivalent: William Shatner's kidney stone.
Finally, the big, expensive daddy of them all, the straw that stirs Shirt.Woot, the multi-armed Vishnu of vestments: the shirt press itself. Approximate cost equivalent: two fully-loaded 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrids.
Whew! So that's how Shirt.Woot works, or doesn't. What a long, ink-stained trip it's been. Let us know if there's anything else you might like to see. We'll see what we can do. I know you might be excited after all this, uh, excitement, so stare deeply into the hypnotic blue-grey eyes of Dave, and he'll whisk you off...to..sleep...