More Than Just "Cheap Swag", a Response to the Fast Company Article

Last week, Fast Company released the article It’s time to stop spending billions on cheap conference swag. If you haven’t read it yet, we highly recommend you do because let’s face it, author Elizabeth Segran is not wrong.

“If you’re in the marketing department at your company, with some say over what swag you buy, you might sway your team to resist the urge to invest in cheap, disposable garbage.”

So let’s take her advice in stride and tell you the ways that we can combat the “cheap swag” problem.

1. Opt for High Quality Products that Add Value


Elizabeth points out that many of the tote bags she has received from events and conferences have been poorly made, and as a result end up in the landfill.  There are literally thousands of options to choose from in the category of tote bags, it is our role at RIGHTSLEEVE as the product experts to educate on the price vs. quality trade off.

We’ve supplied swag for countless conferences and always keep the end recipient in mind.  There are lots of ways to do conference swag without a tote, such as the merchandise we did in this case study, where we recommended high-quality, practical items that encouraged people to continue to use it in their everyday life.

Overall with the clients we work with, we are seeing a shift towards quality. As our Account Director Katie Anderson-Scott said:

"I see the trends these days are moving away from the fast fashion and more towards buying quality items that will last a lifetime. Higher end brands are back in "style" --- brands like Patagonia are making a comeback. Brands that are higher cost, but provide products that will last a lifetime."

The bottom line is if you want something fast and cheap, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. What you will miss out in going that route is the far greater reach and impact of someone carrying around a beautiful tote with your brand on it for years to come after an event.

2. Buy from Compliant and Ethically Sourced Manufacturers

It was rightfully called out in the article that there is still a lot of manufacturing going on in factories overseas where there are poor working conditions and low wage environments.

This is why it is so important to choose carefully the partners you work with.  We thoroughly vet all manufacturers we work with to ensure they are not only sourcing and manufacturing responsibly, but that they are also compliant with all of the current legislation such as Prop 65.

The promotional products industry has placed a significant emphasis on product safety, requiring manufacturers to have completed education courses, and supporting full conferences dedicated solely to product safety.  There are also organizations such as the Quality Certification Alliance that focuses on the quality & safety, social responsibility and environmental impact, which many of our manufacturers are members of.

3. Consider Reusable and Sustainable Products

Scarves with a story: made in North America, by refugees

Scarves with a story: made in North America, by refugees

Where the much aligned tote bag has had a remarkable impact is in reducing plastic bag consumption.  In 2009 the city of Toronto first implemented the 5 cent bag fee to charge for each plastic bag. During this time, it reduced plastic bag use by 50%, as the number of people bringing reusable bags with them exploded.  Other Canadian cities have led by example by banning them altogether.

The anti plastic straw movement has also been a huge mainstream topic, with many companies and cities vowing to ban the use of straws.  We’ve been big supporters in this movement and have made the recommendation of reusable straws to our clients.

Items that we carry with us every day such as coffee tumblers, reusable water bottles and yes, tote bags, play a big role in reducing the number of items going into landfill.  As branded merchandise, these are very powerful mediums in carrying the environmental message in a positive way aligned with your brand.

Ultimately, this was a great article that will hopefully continue to elevate this conversation. It’s an opportunity for all of us to make sure we are making conscious decisions about the products we bring to customers and the impact on our environment.