In an unexpected fit of spring-cleaning, I went through my wardrobe getting rid of all my old conference t-shirts.
Hundreds of ’em! They’re all covered in logos for companies which long-ago went bust, or for events which are no-longer running, and most have… errr… “shrunk” in the wash.
I know I’m a grumpy old sod. But I’ve a couple of serious points to make. T-shirts are wasteful, exclusionary, and a bit of a crap gift.
I've just recycled a whole sack of conference t-shirts.
BarCamps, GovCamps, Cons, trade shows, festivals. Is it time to retire the T as schwag?
I mean, let's not go for branded fidget spinners(!) but is there something more useful which can be given away?
— Terence Eden (@edent) May 11, 2018
Firstly, if you have spare cash at your conference – SPEND IT ON THE CONFERENCE! Make the tickets cheaper – or give them away to people who can’t afford to come. Get better catering than stale sandwiches or soggy pizza. Reinvest it into the community. Pay your speakers.
Secondly, sponsors – I promise you that no one is buying your paradigm-shifting product because they wear your logo under their armpit.
Never understood the prevalence of giving away relatively ugly ill-fitting branded T-shirts at conferences (and I do like T-shirts on general).— Joshua Mouldey (@desire_line) May 12, 2018
I’ve blogged before about how t-shirts can be exclusionary. I’m not alone in thinking this.
Often the women's sizes are also only for tiny women.— Jenny List (@Jenny_Alto) May 11, 2018
One of the reasons we didn't do tshirts for @DevOpsDaysLDN is because I've never been to a conference where any of the t-shirts would fit me. Even the ones we did just for us organizers didn't fit me.— bob (@rjw1) May 11, 2018
There’s a side argument. When you attend the 2018 conference wearing the t-shirt from the 2015 conference, you’re sending a message: “I belong and you’re just a newbie.”
If you’ve ever been to a concert and seen a dude wearing a t-shirt from the band’s original 1974 tour he’s saying that he is a real fan – not like you Johnny-come-latelys.
Do you really want an unending supply of logo’d Ts? What can you possibly do with them all?
Youtube hoodies and jackets are the best. Old conference shirts are good for hair dying though— Inés (@InesLauraDawson) May 11, 2018
I tend to use them for painting, gardening, mechanical work etc— Lee Porte (@leeporte) May 11, 2018
Yeah, fair enough. But there’s a limit to the number of times I can colour my hair while doing the gardening.
OK, so you want to give away something. You need to bribe your participants into loving you. What can you distribute instead?
Notebooks. You can never have too many notebooks. Not pens, though, because I have a million branded pens and they are all always shite.— Suw (@Suw) May 12, 2018
Socks. Most popular schwag Dr Solomon’s ever did. I still get asked about them 20 years later.— PJ Evans (@MrPJEvans) May 11, 2018
Keepcup, reusable straw, those bundles of reusable travel cutlery— Haywards PicallEllie (@Ellayanor) May 11, 2018
Reusable insulated coffee cups with lids pic.twitter.com/6lkcFoDAkq— Fae (@Faewik) May 11, 2018
Towels was a popular suggestion on a thread I read a while back.— Jude Gibbons (@judeGibbons) May 11, 2018
Of course, you don’t need to give crap away to attendees.
A Pi to a school? Costs about 4-6 printed t-shirts I think.— Ian Oates (@IanOates) May 12, 2018
Or, alternatively, turn those old shirts into a blanket.
— the one who makes the quilts (@andrea_r) November 1, 2016
Check Your Privilege
I’m lucky. I can afford to buy my own clothes. And my body-shape is pretty well available at most retailers. I strut with the confidence of a mediocre white man and don’t need to prove myself in the workplace by conspicuously displaying symbols of my in-group membership.
Am I wrong? Do you have a source of secret survey data showing how much conference attendees love free branded t-shirts?
Shove your thoughts in the comment hole below.