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Sustainable Swag


Swag 101: What is it and how is it changing?


Let's take things back to basics, and get to grips with what (good) swag should be.

Some inventions are recorded in the annals of time but there's no Edison lightbulb moment for swag, or a branded apple falling on the head of Isaac Newton.

Until recently, swag was purely a quick and easy way to get your company logo out there, be it on the front of a cheap t-shirt or on the side of an umbrella. In that sense it was effective, as your logo would finally start going places.

Too often though, that place ended up being the trash. For far too long, swag has been the source of endless swathes of mass-produced items that mean very little to the recipient.

If you've ever gone to a conference and received a "goody bag" with nothing good about it, you probably understand what we're talking about. But swag is evolving. Companies are changing the way they do business to make their processes more sustainable. The climate crisis is a real thing and savvy businesses don't make themselves part of the the problem, they want to be part of the solution. 

It's not about doing less, it's about doing things differently to be more efficient, more sustainable, and produce products that people actually will use.

At Roody we believe that swag can be better, and we're putting our money where our mouthy beliefs are by choosing sustainable practices over the status quo.

History of Swag - Mass production/Rigid templates

Female teacher explaining something to class in front of green chalkboard

Swag has existed for about 40 years, since companies started handing out various items with their logos on it. Churning out pens, umbrellas and t-shirts, this was achieved in various different ways like screen printing, embroidering it on or using print machines.

And truth be told, it hasn't really evolved at all. Quantity has always been favoured ahead of quality; something the recipient would be able to quickly figure out due to the overall poor quality of the item.

What people are doing is taking the lowest, cheapest stuff you can get your hands on. The products might be made in vast quantities, but they are usually very limited in terms of the amount of choice you have or leeway to make something unique. 

For example, you might have a handful of colour options (at best) to choose from when putting an order in as the representative of your company. It's a stock item rather than something bespoke that suits your brand's individual needs and standards, and all the swag provider will be able to do for you is stick your logo onto it so it can be handed to someone of your choosing. The templates are rigid, there's no room for creativity. You get the same design template as the company down the road, albeit in different colors.

The repeat offenders

The problem with that is, most people don't want that kind of stuff and they can usually tell it's a cheaply-made stock item.

Flimsy plastic water bottles and cheap pens are two frequent offenders, handed out like pieces of candy at a conference. It might be successful in terms of the number of eyes on your brand logo and the visibility that provides, but there's no real benefit to the recipient. Sure, they might hold onto it for a week, taking up space on a desk somewhere but mark our words, that swag is headed for the landfill site. You can bet that it won't be recyclable either, as a lot of this stuff is made from the cheapest plastic that money can buy.

As useless as that item really is in terms of it being a solid reflection of your brand's ethos or standards, the effects it has on the environment should not be overlooked. Sustainability hasn't really come into the equation when it was all about coming up with vast quantities at as low a cost as possible.

Zero impact

Man in office throwing item into trash can

An impact on the environment is the only tangible consequence, because otherwise it would be completely forgotten by all parties. The purchasing company didn't put much thought into its design, the recipient has already thrown it into the trash and the designers have churned out three more orders since you started reading this paragraph.

Maybe the pens get used for a week or stay in a jar beside someone's phone (if people still do that), but that is probably about it. In all likelihood they are going to be forgotten as quickly as they were made, just like the other swag that has long since been forgotten about.

Where swag is going

You might be reading this and wondering why we're trashing swag. It's what we do, right? The answer is that we love swag, or, more correctly, we love where swag is going: bespoke, sustainably-made, loved by the recipient.

We focus on our processes, ensuring people in factories are treated fairly and work in adequate conditions. This level of care carries over to the very fabrics and materials we use, always striving to find the best quality rather than looking for something that could be churned out for as low a cost as possible.

Sustainability is the a core principle upon which we want our business to thrive. That means planting a tree for every product we ship, it means using recycled materials for our produces - like the recycled polyester we use in our custom Hawaiian shirts, and it means producing the exact number (plus one extra as a template to help when you reorder!), so we can strive to be a zero waste company.

Swag has been around since the 70s but the swag revolution is happening right now and the days of cheap pens, tacky, poorly-made t-shirts and plastic tat for tat sake are nearing an end.