We Received $95,000 Worth of Free Stuff in Six Months

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.

For six months, Racked’s 27-person staff collected everything it was gifted by brands. Everyone on the team was charged with hanging on to every item they were sent or given at a press event, along with its original packaging, which we kept in our fashion closet and later in a 5-by-10-foot storage unit in New Jersey.

We logged what we got on a spreadsheet, including a description of each item, its retail price, who sent it, when it arrived, and whether we ultimately wrote about it or posted it on social media. After gathering and cleaning up this data, we now hope to provide readers with an accurate, thorough snapshot of what brands send a relatively small publication on a routine basis. We publish a lot of brand profiles and shopping roundups, and in certain instances, gifts are the reason we are aware of these companies and well-acquainted with their collections.

We relied on simple internet searches to determine the retail value of each item, and where there was variation in an item’s price, we chose the lowest one. Any items that we couldn’t find a price for — especially the custom gifts, like the portrait of our beauty editor as a mermaid — we marked “price unavailable.” (These were still counted in the tallies of how many gifts we received and whether we covered them or posted about them on social media.) We did this because we wanted our final retail value count to be as certain and uninflated as possible, with the understanding that the actual value of the products may well be higher than what we can report.

Here’s what we found.

These were the types of clothing items Racked received most often.

Here’s a sampling of the 203 miscellaneous non-food, non-beauty, non-wearable items we received.

That’s 65 sticky hands, 6 crystals, 18 water bottles, 18 candles, six pillowcases (and one pillow), 13 pet products, 17 kitchen items, one 23andMe genetic test, one whistle, one “Click and Grow Smart Garden” with a moisture meter, one potted plant, one air plant, one pack of condoms, one drawing of our beauty editor as a mermaid, one Hollywood star plaque honoring our beauty editor, one mailbox, one pineapple-shaped lamp, one fidget spinner, one sage and lighter set, one Osokins Plays Chopin record, one pack of CVS premium bandages, one swim cap, one Withings wireless blood pressure monitor, and one bong, which has not been used... yet.

Racked staffers ultimately put 10 of these items on social media and wrote about five of them: a Diptyque car diffuser, a Goop candle, a BKR water bottle, a Reef water bottle, and a rainbow-hued Edie Parker iPhone case.

Beauty products represent the largest proportion of our swag both by volume and by total retail value. The following categories were the biggest contributors to our beauty tally.

Thanks to this project, Racked’s imaginary makeup bag is now filled with:

Events and experiences are a form of swag, albeit an ephemeral one. Racked staffers took publicists up on their offers of the following.

Racked staffers were also asked to record offers to receive material goods and to attend trips and events that they got from brands and publicists. Here are a few, in their own words.

The items we received were bundled in a variety of materials, including:

You may be wondering what’s going to happen to all this stuff now. After this project wraps up, we’ll be selling as much of it as we can to Vox Media employees (at a discount) and donating the proceeds to Dress for Success.

Editor: Meredith Haggerty

Copy editor and fact checker: Laura Gurfein

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wow, can I work there? seriously

Nah, Racked is disallowing its employees from keeping the swag given to them. Be a vlogger instead and you can receive PR gifts and make videos about PR gifts and receive more PR gifts and make more videos about them, plus no ethics rules!

Oops my bad, Racked staff can still keep all the swag

That’s crazy, also the stat about how the merch is more expensive than the average salary is also depressing.

I really struggled to understand the point of this article, short of giving both the product stylist and graphic designer a shoot and article, respectively, to go HAM on. And to add insult to injury, it speaks about the average salary of an employee and reselling of the product to the staff. It irked me to the point that after years of reading Racked articles, I finally signed up to actually comment. Do better Racked. No one cares about the freebies you get. We subscribe to you for content about the industry.

This article catalogs gifts received from publicists and if and how the gifts got coverage on Racked. It’s part of a series titled The Swag Project about the PR gifting practice rampant in the fashion & beauty media industry including an article about Racked’s ethics statement on free gifts. In one other article in the stream, editors at Conde Nast, Time and Refinery29 publications were interviewed about how they sold their swag and if they felt guilty about it. I think this article and the series as a whole is relevant to the industry by doing a case study of gifting and checking out the industry as a whole.

That’s totally nuts, considering Racked isn’t some super huge, super famous publication. Can I get a job here? lol

Side note, as a cetacean enthusiast I totally appreciated your use of the Pacific white-sided dolphin for the weight example, ha ha.

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