Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Here at Racked, we get a lot of stuff. This isn’t to brag — we get a lot less stuff than many other outlets — but it’s something we knew to be objectively true. So we spent half a year finding out exactly how true it is.
Let me back up. In fashion and beauty journalism, there’s an understanding: If you write about it, things will come. It’s a longstanding practice in the industry for publicists to send both product samples and straight-up gifts to writers and editors in the hopes that their clients will be featured. Company ethics policies differ, but writers and editors use these items to learn about new brands’ products, research future pieces, and help the reader be better informed. At least that’s the idea.
Somewhere along the way, gifting has evolved into something you might call... outsized. And actually, it’s not even as bad as it was pre-recession. But it’s something to behold. A publicist might send, say, not just new spring lipsticks, but new spring lipsticks inside a pricey purse — making for a highly memorable, Instagrammable moment. Or not just a brand’s latest denim jacket, but its latest denim jacket along with a batch of cupcakes frosted with pictures of the editor’s friends and family (found via Facebook). Often a single mascara will be sent inside a large, specially-made box designed to hold that single mascara, and that box will come inside another box which will also be inside of a bag, all stuffed with tissue paper and maybe some of that crinkle-cut confetti.
But it’s not just brand excess that makes the swag economy complicated. Some writers and editors don’t just use or ignore the items, but resell them for a profit, a development some publications accept as an unofficial bonus to their employees’ maybe-not-so-great salaries. Others give excess swag to charity.
So, yes, fashion swag economy can get pretty knotty, ethically, and hey, hi, we’re a part of it.
For six months, we collected and tracked everything we got — eyeshadows, athleisure, the odd bong — along with all the packaging it came in, to see what we at Racked were dealing with. And then, with the help of a talented creative team, we gathered it all into giant piles and took pictures of it. (You’ll see these through out the package.)
How much free stuff flows through our office, and how much is it all worth? How much cardboard do we throw out in a year? How often did we write about these items, and how often did we just toss them to the side and forget about them? What’s the point of all this stuff? The answers surprised us; we think they’ll surprise you, too. —Meredith Haggerty, senior editor
What we've been talking about, and what we're doing from now on.
Here it is.
And it makes doing my job as a beauty editor more complicated than you might think.
Fashion editors all over media find that gifting has its extra perks.
Tens of thousands of dollars go into editorial gifting for a payoff that’s impossible to predict.
When editors pass, women who really need the products win.
Editors: Meredith Haggerty, Julia Rubin, and Britt Aboutaleb
Copy editor and fact checker: Laura Gurfein
Photographers: Ted & Chelsea Cavanaugh
Photo assistant: Guarionex Rodriguez
Prop stylists: Chloe Daley, Grace Troxell, and Michael Younker
Graphic designers: Sarah Lawrence and Lauren O’Connell
Contributors: Eliza Brooke, Cheryl Wischhover, Chavie Lieber, Lauren Sofair, Tara O’Connell, Charlotte Carpenter, Anthony Leslie, Lisseth Lopez, and Viktoria Muench
Special thanks to Ellie Krupnick, Stephanie Talmadge, Nisha Chittal, Krystyna Chavez, Danny Grumich, Zac Swanner, Marine Gonzalez, Vince Dixon, Kristine Hsu, Lauren Fisher, Paul Bruce, Leora Herman, Root Studios, and the whole Racked team for logging all that stuff.