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A few months ago, a staffer at Teen Vogue received a Tria Hair Removal Laser from Sephora. She took it home before realizing it wouldn’t work with her hair color and, after seeing that it retails for $500, listed it on eBay. The laser sold immediately for $450, the majority of which she was able to pocket after the online marketplace took its commission.
The staffer now concedes she felt bad about making money off of the product — but only initially. The office of the Condé Nast-owned publication is overflowing with free items. Plus, she says, tons of her coworkers sell their gifts. “The resale culture has gone up in general, and editors are just bombarded with gifts,” she says. “At this point, it’s a part of Condé culture.”
Fashion editors reselling gifts certainly isn’t unique to Condé Nast. It’s become status quo at nearly every publishing company covering fashion and beauty, from Hearst to Time Inc. to Refinery29 — even here at Racked. Former and current editors interviewed for this story, all of whom requested anonymity, agree the swag resale market is vast, covert, and growing, thanks in part to the rise of the lucrative and booming digital resale market.
A bonus to a job that already comes with perks and privilege, reselling gifts has spawned an underground network of sorts. Some editors openly talk about it, while others say it’s more along the lines of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” As long as the ethics of the whole thing go unaddressed by both editors and the corporations that employ them, this surreptitious network of profit will keep growing.
“There’s definitely a little bit of shame that comes with it, which is why we aren’t talking about it IRL, on the floor,” the current Teen Vogue staffer says. “And there are a lot of moral questions that come with it. I get that it has a seedy vibe. But if you’re getting sent expensive things that you are not going to use, you’d be stupid not to sell it.”
Regardless of price tag, heritage, or reputation, nearly every brand sends gifts to editors. With myriad companies and products out there, it’s the best way to rise above competition in the hopes of making it into roundups and reviews. For those with specific beats, like beauty reporters, receiving product is a crucial part of the job. But within the gifting sector, there’s plenty of excess, like wrong sizes mindlessly sent over, or just the overflow of product in general that no one’s held accountable for. This all fuels the swag resale economy.
The rules of accepting — and selling — gifts vary by company. At Condé Nast, where former and current employees say the gifting policy “is that there is no policy,” reselling gifts has become common practice. Some even say it’s sanctioned, with the oft-floated rationale that staffers who make less money need the extra income.
“If you get a gift from Chanel but you don’t make a lot of money and need to pay your bills, what are you going to do with that bag?” says an assistant fashion writer of a Condé magazine she requested not be named. “It’s about survival.”
One former Teen Vogue fashion assistant says coworkers bragged openly and often about how much money they made selling swag. One editor shared that she paid her rent with the profit.
“It’s part of the mystique of working in fashion,” the former assistant says. “The happenings of this world are so private, including salary, but you have to keep up with the illusion with all the stuff that you have that it’s all so glamorous. You can see how people make it work, right? They get sent designer clothing, they get discounts, but they are also making $35,000 a year. So obviously they’ll snap a photo to Instagram or whatever and then immediately sell it.”
One former Lucky editor recalls that back in 2009, when Rodarte collaborated with Target, a staffer who had attended the preview and gotten merch for free was flipping it on eBay when websites, including Racked, started calling it out. The employee eventually came clean, panicked that she’d get busted and fired. The editor had to explain to her that she — and Condé — didn’t care.
“I had a hard time faulting a beauty assistant who makes $30,000 a year for trying to pocket something extra,” the former editor says. “Accepting anything never affected the coverage the magazine was giving anyways.”
While most editors today opt to use a service like resale website The RealReal, employees who’ve witnessed the swag resale economy firsthand say there are plenty of other worthy avenues. An editor at Refinery29 says she and coworkers like to use Poshmark to sell the plethora of fitness apparel the office gets, while a former Vogue assistant says many of the editors would rely on old-school consignment shops on the Upper East Side that the magazine had a long-time relationship with, like Designer Revival. (The former Vogue staffer also had to keep a spreadsheet to track down retail prices and ensure the consignment shops were paying accordingly.)
A former Glamour editor says many editors at the publication, herself included, send swag to Fashion Avenue, a consignment shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that the magazine had developed a rapport with. A former GQ editor who’s flipped sneakers and items like collectible skateboards says oldie-but-goodie eBay is the magazine’s resale market of choice. INA, the secondhand shop with a men’s location in Soho, comes in close second, he says. An editor at Marie Claire says she prefers to sell her swag at Beacon’s Closet in Greenpoint because she can do an easy exchange for store credit and the store recognizes cool, small brands she sells, like M.Gemi, The Kooples, and Covry. Mobile commerce app Depop is popular among younger fashion assistants, too.
Racked employees do this too. (Or they did before this project was underway; senior staff has since laid out a comprehensive ethics policy stating that reselling is not acceptable). One editor says she cleans out her closet twice a year and makes about $200 from each visit to Buffalo Exchange selling a mix of gifted Kate Spade bags, Frame jeans, and sneakers from Adidas and Reebok. The swag she sells, she adds, is usually what’s sent mindlessly without considering size or style. She gets less than half of retail value, but “that's money I can then spend on something I actually want to wear, plus I free up precious closet space, so it’s a win-win,” she says.
Another Racked editor says she frequents Beacon’s Closet with swag she’s picked up around the office in hopes of getting store credit; she says the store is pretty picky, although it did buy all of the Jourdan Dunn athleisure collection she took from another editor. She says she would never sell anything online because that feels like a different level of “slimy”: “It's something about the level of effort for a small amount of profit, and it’s just not worth my time, I guess.”
When it comes to the price tag of gifts vis-a-vis the earnings capabilities of selling those gifts, a publication’s prestige has serious influence. One former Time Inc. employee who worked at several magazines, including InStyle, before settling into a job at an independent luxury magazine says the amount of money she’s been able to make off of selling gifts she receives at work is much higher now that she works in luxury. She’s gone from getting boxes of clothing from Gap to Cartier jewelry and Prada sunglasses. She’s sold items that come as part of her Fashion Week invitations, like the leather envelope carriers her Louis Vuitton fashion show invites arrive in and the silk scarf that accompanied Dolce & Gabbana’s. She’s also sold coffee table books from Gucci and a Chanel handbag she was sent for Christmas.
A former editor at Refinery29 agrees the ranking of publication reputation affects gifting. At Refinery, she says, the office was flooded with contemporary labels like Tory Burch or sportswear brands like Adidas, which are pretty easy to sell but don’t have as much commission potential. Luxury items sent to Refinery, though, are few and far between because those brands “still somehow still don’t understand how digital works.”
Another important factor in the swag resale economy is how high up an editor is on the masthead. A former GQ editor says nearly everyone on staff got sent gifts like clothes, shoes, and accessories from companies like Nike and J.Crew, but editors on top saw gifts of all types from brands like Tom Ford, Prada, and Louis Vuitton. Not that leadership status (or salary) means senior-ranking editors don’t resell gifts. The former Teen Vogue assistant, who worked for the magazine’s fashion director, says that as part of job training, she became proficient in scheduling, expenses — and selling her boss’s swag on The RealReal.
“Mansur Gavriel bags, Chanel shoes,” she says. “I would snap an Insta story of her opening the items, and then off to sell.”
For a company like The RealReal, users get paired with personal representatives, and the former assistant says part of the job was staying in touch and coordinating with the rep. (The RealReal confirmed to Racked the site is a top choice for editors, but could not comment on whether inventory coming in from editors was gifted.) The assistant would collect her boss’s gifts for pickup at least twice a month and schedule messengers to send pieces to The RealReal’s New York consignment office on Condé’s dime.
A former Vogue employee who worked at the print magazine as an assistant to the accessories editor recalls having to go to the Gucci store on Fifth Avenue around Christmastime to exchange a bag that was gifted to her boss because her boss didn’t like it. The scenario ended in near-disaster: The store was concerned the brand-new, current-season bag had been stolen. Sales associates demanded to know where she got it, but the assistant wasn’t allowed to say her boss’s name and she did not have a receipt. When she was finally allowed out of the store (with the bag), she left humiliated and in tears.
“I knew how much money my boss had her in bank account, because I saw that stuff, and could not believe she was making me sell these things,” she adds. “To a poor college student with debt and no family connections, it was painful to watch.”
The former GQ editor believes that gifting and its resale economy is far more pervasive at women’s magazines than men’s, except when it comes to sneakers. He’s been able to flip plenty of exclusives shoes that were sent to him. A former men’s magazine editor who requested his publication not be named says he has friends who’ve made “thousands” flipping Yeezys because they had early access to the coveted sneaker’s launches.
The swag resale economy isn’t just for luxury items or trendy athleisure. Anything worth selling can and does, especially when sites like The RealReal incentivize sellers with policies like more commission for the more you sell. A former employee of the East Village location of Buffalo Exchange recalls fashion editors frequently bringing in bags of new merch from all points on the fashion spectrum. The staff had to ask about the products and the seller’s professions in order to ensure the items weren’t stolen.
“The editors were all forthcoming about their jobs and that they were selling shit that was sent to them,” she says. “No one seemed to feel like there was any shade involved.”
The swag resale economy is definitely not the way it used to be, at least compared to the pre-recession era. In addition to pre-2008 media salaries, longtime editors recall, often wistfully, a time when gifters hardly had financial concerns. The former Lucky editor remembers exiting the old Condé building in Times Square every Friday and seeing a row of luxury cars from Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche lined up, waiting to be taken out for the weekend by top editors at the men’s magazines.
While fashion magazines (and their editors) have had to make room for influencers big and small in the gifting sphere, digital has made the swag resale economy grow in many ways. The former Refinery29 editor says employees with large social media followings tend to “get gifts from brands every single day, and the motives are usually unclear. Like, are the gifts coming because they work at Refinery, or because they are an Instagram personality?”
Much of what’s sent to social-media-famous editors gets sold, says the former Vogue employee who still follows a lot of her coworkers on Instagram, adding: “They snap one photo, but then you never see the item ever again in their wardrobe and it’s like, ‘Gee, where did it go?’”
Of course, there’s potential for exposure given the visibility that digital resale sites and social media have. Sometimes it isn’t all that hard to trace things back to editors. The Racked editor who sells at Buffalo Exchange says she never sells things that were personalized or made for her out of fear that brands will catch on “and stop sending stuff.” (This is why many editors opt to use a site like The RealReal as opposed to something more traceable like Depop or Poshmark, the Racked editor notes.)
One former editor from Elle says that tons of coworkers resold makeup, but she just gave products to her mother and friends out of fear of getting caught. A coworker at Elle once got called out by an angry publicist for putting an exclusive item on eBay (apparently the coworker’s username was very close to her actual name and easy to decipher).
While luxury items are clearly the best things to flip in the secret swag economy, editors say in-demand streetwear can come with pretty resale prices, too — blame Kanye and the hypebeasts. One Racked editor who has sold items on Depop recently flipped merch she bought at an event promoting Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” collection with Nike, where editors could shop it hours before it was available to the public; she was able to sell a $50 tote bag for $350. Streetwear, she says, is “just always going to be the best thing to sell because that community is so intense.”
Fashion publicists are well aware of the swag resale economy, but have mixed feelings about the whole thing. One publicist from a major fashion PR agency says most would admit they don’t care if editors resell their swag, so long as the goal — getting placement or a mention of their client — is reached. A former Ralph Lauren employee, on the other hand, says her team would “put a lot of work into gifting, and at an in-house level, you see the value of these items, so knowing it was ending up on the resale market was a stab in the back.”
An underground economy of editors who profit off fashion brands is unethical, the former Ralph Lauren employee states flatly. While the practice is justified by saying incomes need to be supplemented and that this is an added bonus to the job, she points out that the money is coming out of the pocket of someone other than their employer.
A former Condé editor doesn’t exactly have sympathy for reselling gifts at the expense of brands, though. After all, she says, most of these companies are big brands with big budgets.
“Gifting,” she says,” is just a drop in the bucket of what they can afford.”