37C3: Dressed to hack

37C3: Dressed to hack

It is the shibboleth among European nerds on campsites, at the Mate wholesale market and in lecture halls. It often divides the community, has often led to long queues in the past and for many hackers it’s the reliable source of clothing: The Congress Merch.

The wildest hot takes on merch in the run-up to the event usually start with “Why don’t they just …” and the answers to this are rarely obvious without having rocked such a production yourself. That’s why we want to provide a little insight into the motivations, constraints and experiences and grant a peek through the keyhole at out calculations.

First of all, here are the bare figures for 37C3 to illustrate the order of magnitude: We sent 11,392 textiles to print (including angel shirts). The delivery arrived on 19 EUR-pallet and our trusted print shop was busy putting our order through its presses for around two weeks (in the middle of the pre-Christmas period). Sell all the items will allow the orga™ to subsidize more amazing projects at congress.

However, drawing up such a calculation is a complex piece of art: we’re not in the business of squeezing the maximum profit out of you folks, but rather want to provide us all with mementos of what for some participants was the most meaningful event of their lives. Of course, the products should be of a quality that (a glance in the wardrobe confirms this) will still allow us to look back fondly on previous conventions in twenty years' time. We also value fairly produced raw materials and go for a local printing company that treats its employees correctly.

As already indicated above, the Congress shirts are one of the ways for people with a little more financial leeway to cross-finance the organisation of the event for all those who are not so flush with money: as the Congress is traditionally run close to the green zero, every euro from merch sales actually helps to reduce the risk in the overall calculation.

As you’ve probably noticed at events in recent years, the merchandise ran out at some point. So you formed rather impressive queues in front of the Congress shirt counter to avoid ending up in front of empty shelves. Now, capitalist logic would suggest a simple approach here: simply produce more and cushion the risk with a surcharge. Or even commission one of the big T-shirt printers to sell post-produced merchandise somewhere in the dodgy web shops between Congresses.

The problem here is, on the one hand, that we don’t want to produce stockpiles and destroy textiles later. A Congress shirt is also a Congress shirt and not fan merchandise that can be ordered by Joe Fandude at leisure or which would also mean to hand over your private data to third parties. On the other hand, we do not have any angel shifts to allocate between the Congresses and would still have to store all unsold shirt somewhere. Our logistics team is only moderately enthusiastic about having to store several EUR-pallets full of clothes, which would then also have to be freely accessible for stocktaking (which usually takes place in a freezing warehouse in winter). Considering all this, we regularly optimise merch towards selling the whole stock.

At the events, you probably encountered our friendly heroes of the Fashion Operation Centre - c3foc - who on average have to hand out four textiles per minute during the seventy hours of 37C3. Of course, this also includes picking out the right piece in the correct size, sorting and stocktaking, handling cash or beeping out your receipts, adjusting the stock at c3foc.net, waiting for you to try on, dealing with exchange requests and playing style advisor. And while everyone at the merch desk are big fans of a large, diverse and colourful product matrix, every new colour or design usually means two product types (fitted and straight), each with a dozen new product type sizes ranging from XXS to 5XL with the greatest sales risk at the edges of the bell curve.

Which brings us right to the next problem: In the past, determining the size distribution table for our order, affectionately known as the “paunch curve”, was a difficult task to calculate: Having sold out all the textiles at the events, we never learnt the actual demand for any of the sizes or products. Even a secret peak at the shirt orders from the angel system and the list we got from pre-sale introduced for Camp 2023 only helped a little: even though angels regularly make up around 15% of the participants, certain biases for a textile size cannot be ruled out there either, and even in the pre-sale, the probability is not low that people with sizes at the extremes of the range will pre-order more often than participants with average bodies - which makes extrapolation even more difficult.

In addition to the obvious advantages for you - such as more free cash on the premises, guaranteed availability of your size and more peace of mind when collecting - and advantages for us - such as money already in our account when purchasing ordering raw materials, less cash handling and better estimates which motifs, textiles and sizes are most in demand - the new pre-sale also brought a whole load of problems: In the eyes of the Distance Contract Act (Fernabsatzgesetz), an online purchase with self-collection is a very unusual case, and suddenly goods ordered from the print shop but not delivered no longer just result in a “sold out - sorry”, but entail cancellation and refund processes. And, of course, the c3foc angels also have to pre-sort the pre-ordered goods, a complexity that we had to painfully learn at the camp. All in all, however, pre-sales are a win-win situation and we will continue to improve the processes.

Time permitting, we occasionally produce extra swag in addition to the classics, such as the beautifully designed hitchhiker-themed sports towels at the camp, as even if they had proved to be shelf warmers, they only come in one size and quickly disappear into a single box. (We will be offering the last few for sale at 37C3.) For 25C3, we also produced dresses in the Congress design, in other years we had caps and rain jackets on offer, and in the future we want to make additional offers to all those who have little use for shirts with slogans, prefer to wear polo shirts rather than hoodies or need even more unusual sizes that we simply cannot keep in stock every year. We are also happy to provide the print data on request - as long as it is not used to run competitor shops. And of course we’ll keep our ears open for further ideas from the community. Just write to 37c3-design@cccv.de.

So, if you’re involved with the c3foc at 37C3, perhaps you’ll remember this text and the complex problems caused by the Congress' sheer size dealt with by only a handful of volunteers: give a smile back and, in the event of delays in operations, assume that nobody is trying to rip you off or take advantage of you. And still be happy when you look in your wardrobe in twenty years' time!

Image by Thorsten Schröder CC BY-SA 2.0