Creatively Repurpose Your Unwanted Show Swag

June 8, 2018

If you came home from trade show season with more than just new project ideas, check out these repurpose ideas before heading to the trashcan.

Trade show season does more than send you home with great ideas for the coming year; there’s also all of the booth swag. While that tote or t-shirt was a must-have at the show, it could end up taking over useful space or cluttering your office. Even if you plan on using the items, consider this—what did you do with all of last year’s swag? Chances are if you didn’t keep and use it then, it’s now buried in the bottom of a desk drawer or last year’s garbage. Why not repurpose it?

Here at interiors+sources, we use the And On That Note page to showcase positive works in the design community and this time it’s your turn. The i+s team pulled together ideas on how to repurpose tradeshow swag.

Don’t have the time? Swing by the i+s Materials Pavilion (7-1000) during NeoCon to drop off extra items and the i+s staff will repurpose them for you. If you’re not at NeoCon, feel free to send it to headquarters: interiors+sources, 615 5th St SE Cedar Rapids, IA 52401.


Many of us have drawers full of free t-shirts from trade shows and 5k runs, piled with pictures from that one family picnic that took place years ago. These shirts can be put to good use helping a problem in America that doesn’t get enough coverage: many of the 2.5 million kids who are homeless don’t have designated outfits for sleep. Instead, they tend to sleep in their day clothes, which isn’t conducive to a good night’s rest. Donating gently used pajamas (or leftover trade show t-shirts) for homeless kids and teens gives them the comfort and security of having their very own clothes just for sleeping.

Interested in doing more? Programs like provides kids with new PJs and bedtime stories.

Repurpose Pens and Stationery

One of the easiest ways to help your community is by simply cleaning out your desks or bags. For many public schools, supplies like pens, pencils, and notebooks come from students’ families and teachers are often left supplementing classrooms out of their own pockets. Instead of throwing out your office extras, give your local schools or childcare programs a call to see if they could use more supplies.

Repurpose Tote Bags

These fun trade show staples can run out their use well before their lifecycle is over. For America’s homeless population, keeping one’s possessions on hand is essential. What’s more: While city-wide bans on plastic bags are great for the environment, they have unintended consequences for those struggling financially. Tote bags help fill the need for reusable bags for those in lower socioeconomic income levels and can also give the homeless reliable, sturdy means for transporting their belongings.

Want to do more? Fill reusable totes with items like water bottles, pull-tab cans of food, sanitary items (including unused toiletries from the hotel), and socks to be given to people in need. Easy to stash in the car, they can help improve someone’s life. With the 2015 census stating there are 82,212 homeless people in Chicago alone, NeoCon gives attendees the opportunity to lend a hand to locals in need.

Repurpose Coffee Cups

One of the cornerstones of organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is that they are self-supporting through member donations, oftentimes leading meetings to be low on perks such as coffee cups. If your cupboard can’t possibly hold another mug, consider giving a call to your local fellowship club or AA/NA meeting and ask if they could use them.

Repurpose Samples and USB Drives

The end of trade show season starts another annual event: the purging of the samples. The design departments of local colleges can many times put out-of-season samples to good use in their own materials libraries or provide students with materials for final projects. (Example: Parsons has donation boxes where people can toss their extra fabric for use in the fashion school.)

About the Author

Kadie Yale | Former Editor-in-Chief

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and a MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School. In her role as editor-in-chief from 2015-2018, she led the interiors+sources team in creating relevant content that touches on sustainability, universal design, science, and the role of design in society.

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