On conference t-shirts

    Conference t-shirts can't be that hard, right? I certainly don't remember them being difficult when Canberra last hosted linux.conf.au in 2005. I was the person who arranged all the swag for that conference, so I should remember. Yet here I am having spent hours on the phone with vendors, and surrounded with discarded sample t-shirts, size charts and colour swatches. What changed?

    The difference between now and then is that in the intervening seven years the Australian Linux community has started to make real effort to be more inclusive. We have anti-harassment policies, we encourage new speakers, and we're making real efforts to encourage more women into the community.

    linux.conf.au 2013 is making real efforts to be as inclusive as possible -- one of the first roles we allocated was a diversity officer, who is someone active in the geek feminism community. We've had serious discussions about how we can make our event as friendly to all groups as possible, and have some interesting things along those lines to announce soon. We're working hard to make the conference a safe environment for everyone, and will have independent delegate advocates available at all social events, as well as during the conference.

    What I want to specifically talk about here is the conference t-shirts though. We started out with the following criteria -- we wanted to provide a men's cut, and a separate women's cut, because we recognize that unisex t-shirts are not a good solution for most women. We also need a wider than usual size range in those shirts because we have a diverse set of delegates attending our event. We also didn't really want to do black, dark blue, or white shirts -- mostly because those colours are overdone, but also because the conference is in January when the mean temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius.

    Surprisingly, those criteria eliminate the two largest vendors of t-shirts in Australia. Neither Hanes nor Gildan make any t-shirt that has both men's and women's cuts, in interesting colours and with a large size variety. So we went on the hunt for other manufacturers. However, I'm jumping a little ahead of myself here, so bear with me.

    First off we picked a Hanes shirt because we liked the look of it. We were comfortable with that choice for quite a while before we discovered that the range of colours available in both the men's and women's cut was quite small. Sure, there are heaps of colours in each cut, but the overlapping set of colours is much smaller than it first appears. At this point we knew we needed to find a new vendor.

    The next most obvious choice is Gildan. Gildan does some really nice shirts, and I immediately fell in love with a colour called "charcoal". However, once bitten twice shy, so we ordered some sample t-shirts for my wife and I to try out. I'm glad we did this, because the women's cut was a disaster. First off it didn't fit my wife very well in the size she normally wears, which it turns out is because the lighter cotton style of t-shirt is 10 centimeters smaller horizontally than the thicker cotton version! It got even worse when we washed the shirts and tried them again -- the shirt shrunk significantly on first wash. We also noticed something else which had escaped our attention -- the absolute largest size that Gildan did in our chosen style for women was a XXL. Given the sizing ran small, that probably made the largest actual size we could provide a mere XL. That's not good enough.

    Gildan was clearly not going to work for us. I got back on the phone with the supplier who was helping us out and we spent about an hour talking over our requirements and the problems we were seeing with the samples. We even discussed getting a run of custom shirts made overseas and shipped in, but the timing wouldn't work out. They promised to go away and see what other vendors they could find in this space. Luckily for us they came back with a vendor called BizCollection, who do soft cotton shirts in the charcoal colour I like.

    So next we ordered samples of this shirt. It looked good initially -- my shirt fit well, as did my wife's. However, we'd now learnt that testing the shirts through a few wash cycles was useful. So then my wife and I wore the shirts as much as we could for a week, washing them each evening and abusing them in all the ways we could think of -- using the dryer, hanging them outside in the sun, pretty much everything apart from jumping up and down on them. I have to say these shirts have held up well, and we're very happy with them.

    The next step is I'm going to go back and order a bunch more sample shirts and make my team wear them. The goal here is to try and validate the size charts that the vendor provides and make sure that we can provide as much advice about fit as possible to delegates. Also, I love a free t-shirt.

    After all this we still recognize that some people will never be happy with the conference's t-shirt. Perhaps they hate the colour or the design, or perhaps they're very tall and every t-shirt is too short for them. So the final thing we're doing is we're giving delegates a choice -- they can select between a t-shirt, a branded cap, or a reusable coffee cup. In this way we don't force delegates to receive something they don't really want and are unlikely to use.

    When you register for the conference, please try to remember that we've put a lot of effort as an organizing team into being as detail oriented as possible with all the little things we think delegates care about. I'm sure we've made some mistakes, but we are volunteers after all who are doing our best. If you do see something you think can be improved I'd ask that you come and speak to us privately first and give us a chance to make it right before you complain in public.

    Thanks for reading my rant about conference t-shirts.

posted at: 14:42 | path: /conference/lca2013 | permanent link to this entry

    ### Clinton Roy

    Way above and beyond :)

    One of these years we're going to go without t-shirts and do hats or scarves or something that's easier.

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