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Company Swag

FAQ: What Company Swag Will People Actually Wear?

It’s always an open question whether or not company swag is actually worthwhile. Sometimes, you see people talking about the swag they love. Other times, people rebel against it, arguing that they don’t want to be seen as a walking advertisement or feel like they’re on the clock when they aren’t.

So, if you’re in charge of designing company swag for your employees, conference attendees, guests, family members, or anyone else, you have a few questions to answer. Let’s help you through them!

Should You Invest in Wearable Swag?

The first and, perhaps, one of the most important questions you have to answer is whether you want to go with wearable swag or not. Wearable swag includes things like t-shirts and hats, while non-wearable swag includes items like drinkware or USB flash drives.

Which is better?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer here. It really comes down to personal preference. Some people are very picky about their clothing and don’t want to wear anything that has so much as a hint of branding on it if they can help it, regardless of who they work for or why they got the swag. Others will happily wear whatever they want and don’t care much about what they represent with their fashion choices. Many more fall somewhere in the middle; they might wear company swag as long as the design is tasteful or there’s some good humor behind it.

Wearable Company Swag

On the other side of the coin, non-wearable swag can range from very useful items to things no one cares enough to even bring home. How many branded pens can one person own? There are people who barely even use handwriting implements anymore since you can do just about everything digitally, on the phone, or with a keyboard. Stationary is going the way of the dodo for many people. Things like flash drives can be useful for some people and clutter for others.

Generally, we have two pieces of advice here.

Number one: Ask your target audience what they would prefer. You can do this with a simple poll, with direct messaging, one-on-one feedback, or whatever means of communication works best with your audience. You might be surprised at the opinions they hold, and you might find that there’s such a broad divide that no single piece of swag can satisfy everyone. This leads us to:

Number two: Make more than one piece of swag available. Maybe your event hands out swag bags with a variety of items in them (and maybe you have a place near the exits for unwanted swag to be returned so it doesn’t end up in a landfill.) Maybe instead of handing out swag directly, you set up a store for employees and their families and give them coupons or credit instead of items directly. Whatever the solution you find, your goal is to provide a variety of options because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

What Makes Wearable Company Swag Good?

The next question is, what makes company swag good enough to wear? Since the focus of this post is on wearable swag rather than the non-wearable items, that’s what we’re focusing on. Generally, there are four or five major qualities that come to mind.

Quality. Nobody wants to wear a shirt that doesn’t quite fit, where the design fades or cracks apart in the wash, and the fabric wears out in just a few washes. Nobody wants to wear socks that feel as thin as paper. Nobody wants to wear something where the design looks like a 50×50 pixel JPG blown up to full size, complete with artifacts and fuzzy edges. Think about it; the quality of the swag you’re handing out reflects what you think of the quality of your audience. Cheap swag? No respect for the audience. If they’re worth it, you’ll invest in it.

Style. The style of the item is another huge factor. It’s not just something like the difference between a typical crew-neck t-shirt or a polo shirt, but more in the overall aesthetics of the item. Are you handing over a simple white T-shirt with a logo on it? Are you making something with a huge and garish logo that makes your recipient feel like a NASCAR driver? Or are you offering something that is understated, elegant, clever, or that ties into your overall aesthetic?

Utility. Another big factor in whether or not people are going to actually wear and enjoy your swag is if it has enough utility for them. While something like a t-shirt is simple and usable by anyone, other items may not be. Some people aren’t fond of bracelets or watches, some never wear hats, and so on. This is one of the main factors that might make you choose to go with non-wearable swag instead; good drinkware, a USB flash drive, or a canvas tote might be more usable and thus better than one more little-used piece of apparel.

Producing Company Swag

Ethical production. Not everyone cares about this – though we think they should – but for those who do, the ethics of the production of your swag can be a huge influencing factor. This is also important if your brand has a mission statement that involves being good for the planet or focusing on green initiatives or anything like that. Don’t betray your people or your ethics just because shirts made by sweatshops and shipped from overseas are a few dollars cheaper. Have standards, and live up to them.

Humor. This one is the one that’s not always necessary. Threads like the Reddit one linked up above mention humor as a good reason why company swag sticks around; something clever, ironic, or amusing is better than just a plain brand logo. It’s not necessary to have a humorous, ironic, satirical, or amusing image on your swag, but it can set it above the baseline and make it more wearable.

What Makes People Avoid Company Swag?

Now, let’s turn things around. If someone is handed a piece of company swag, what is it that makes them say “oh… thanks…” and put it in a box, never to see the light of day again?

Cringe logos or humor. This is one where that last item on the list above can come back to bite you. If you come up with something amusing or ironic to make into your swag, but the joke doesn’t land, well, you’re left in a worse position than you were before. Now, sometimes a cringeworthy image or a statement that ends up ironic in retrospect – like a “here’s to five more years!” celebratory item from a company that goes under immediately after – can have value after the fact. But you don’t want to rely on something bad happening to give value to your swag, and you really don’t want to rely on people finding something cringe to be humorous.

Cheap or poor quality. We really can’t labor this point enough. The quality of the items you have as swag is a huge indicator of how much value you put in the audience you’re giving the swag to in the first place. The cheaper the stuff you’re handing over, the more likely it is to end up in the garbage, and really, we can’t blame anyone who does exactly that. A cheap pen that dries out easily, a shirt that wears out immediately, a canvas tote with handles that snap off the moment it’s overloaded; not only is it worthless as swag, but attaching your logo to garbage is worse than not having swag at all.

Various Company Swag
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalpapercuts/5533440324

No brand loyalty. This one isn’t really related to the swag itself so much as it is to the relationship you have with the person you’re giving it to. Swag is meant to be a reward, a celebration, a token of appreciation. Giving someone a branded t-shirt, no matter how good that t-shirt is, doesn’t do anything if you’re working them 60 hours a week, not paying them a living wage, and keeping them constantly under threat of layoff. The best swag in the world can’t counter a bad relationship.

Value. This one is kind of an odd one out. A very valuable piece of swag – like a set of fancy headphones, a convention-exclusive door prize swag bag, or a gold watch – might not be something your recipient wears because they’re more likely to list it on eBay and get something more useful to them (money) than the item itself. That’s very contextual, though.

What Kinds of Items Make Good Wearable Swag?

So, in terms of wearable swag, what kinds of items make the best swag?

Jackets. A good jacket can be a long-lasting and useful item. Now, of course, pretty much everyone is going to have some sort of jacket to cover their needs. But if your swag jacket is nicer than what they have, they might upgrade. Or, maybe it’s a jacket that can be used in a different way from what they usually use. One thing to note, though, is that if you or your recipient are located in an area where the climate never really gets cool or cold, a jacket isn’t as useful.

Shirts. A shirt is perhaps by far the most common wearable piece of swag you can give, but at the same time, everybody wears shirts, right? You should make sure to pick the right kind of shirt, though; a t-shirt, a polo, and a sweatshirt are all very different in terms of utility and use case.

Caps. Not everyone wears hats, and that’s okay, but a good hat with a simple, understated logo – or something personalized for the recipient – can be a solid and useful piece of swag that can outlast a person’s career, depending on how well it’s made.

Socks. Most people tend to wear socks, whether they’re goofy socks for casual Friday, plain white crew socks for daily use, thermal insulated boot socks for winter, thin dark dress socks for fancy get-togethers, or another kind of sock entirely. A good pair of socks, even if they have a logo on them, can still be a great and useful piece of swag. It doesn’t work quite as well for brand merchandising, though.

Wearable Swag Items

Messenger bags. While a bag stretches the definition of wearable, a good messenger bag, computer bag, or even canvas tote can be an item your recipient gets a lot of value and use out of. Plus, an interesting or garish design can even be a theft deterrent; thieves don’t tend to steal things that are more easily identifiable.

Headphones. Headphones, from simple earbuds to larger and fancier over-the-head devices, aren’t just wearable pieces of tech; they’re useful in both work and life. Plus, branding on a piece of technology like this is more expected and forgivable than on other kinds of items, so you can be more obvious with it.

Lanyards. This one is an odd one on the list; lanyards themselves aren’t great swag, but as part of a larger swag bag or as a free hand-out along with badges for a convention, they can be an excellent item. There are also some people, particularly those who frequently attend events, who collect them.

Masks. While mask usage has generally dropped since the height of the pandemic, millions of people are now more aware of their use, and that use is more normalized than it used to be. A simple mask can be a decent piece of swag, though they are inherently disposable, even if they’re washable, so keep that in mind.

How Can You Get Top-Quality Company Swag?

By talking to us, of course! At Ethix, we pride ourselves in producing ethically-made items, using union labor whenever possible, sourcing all of our raw materials from ethical or local producers, and always striving to improve every aspect of production for every item we offer. We’re also more than happy to talk about any of it with you.

Ethix Merch Company Apparel

You can read our standards here, reach out with any questions you have here, and if you just want to place an order, all of those links above will take you right to our store. You can also browse the other items we offer, including both wearable and non-wearable swag that can be customized to your exact needs. We look forward to hearing from you!