Web Summit: Branded £720 jumpers sell out at ‘geek Glastonbury’

Web Summit jumperImage copyright
Web Summit

The annual gathering of tech leaders and entrepreneurs at Web Summit in Lisbon has taken a strange turn, with a Twitter row over hand-knitted jumpers.

The €850 (£720) sweater is available to buy on the “swag” section of its website, along with cheaper items such as T-shirts and reusable water bottles.

Some delegates and commentators took to Twitter to complain about the price.

But Web Summit chief executive Paddy Cosgrove told BBC News that, despite the outrage, the jumpers had sold out.

Image Copyright @VanWatt

Twitter post by @VanWatt: Genuinely concerned that this isn't a joke. Imagine a Founder pitching for seed funds to meet payroll....while wearing a €850 hand woven sweater.Image Copyright @VanWatt

Image Copyright @AllieLindo

Twitter post by @AllieLindo: This just underscores how tech conferences like this are for the rich and are exclusionary to founders without easy access to liquid capital. This is a symptom of a larger issue.Image Copyright @AllieLindo

Image Copyright @MStothard

Twitter post by @MStothard: Web Summit, an annual technology which kicks off this week, is charging hundreds of euros for its clothing. A Handknit sweater is €850 and a jumper is €780.People are confused. “Genuinely concerned that this isn’t a joke,” said one VC.Image Copyright @MStothard

Image Copyright @kowalshki

Twitter post by @kowalshki: I see the web summit have finally jumper the shark.Image Copyright @kowalshki

“It takes more than 40 hours to make these Aran sweaters so there’s only about 12 in total and they are all sold,” Mr Cosgrove said.

A slightly cheaper version – at 780 euros – has also sold out, according to the website, which no longer shows the prices of the items.

Female knitters

The back story to the sweater is that Mr Cosgrove has worn one on stage for years, knitted by his wife. Some speakers – including skateboarder Tony Hawk – had admired it and asked for one.

“If you want fast fashion from some part of the world made under very dubious circumstances, you can absolutely have a cheap sweater but if you want to support a dying indigenous industry and some wonderful female knitters in Donegal, there’s a sweater I’ve been wearing for a number of years and we made it available online,” Mr Cosgrove said.

But he acknowledged merchandise at a technology conference might be unusual. “Maybe the World Economics Forum doesn’t have a merch store,” he said.

Image copyright
Cody Glenn/Web Summit

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Web Summit chief Paddy Cosgrove says he has worn a version of the jumper at the conference for years

When Web Summit was conceived, Mr Cosgrove and his organisers had had more experience of attending rock concerts than technology conferences.

“We wanted to fuse the excitement of a summer music festival with a more traditional business conference,” he said.

And the summit was still described by some of those early visitors as “Glastonbury for geeks”.

Now hosted in Lisbon’s Altice Arena, more normally a venue for entertainers such as Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, it still has the air of a festival, with delegates issued with wristbands and popcorn available for sessions on the main stage.

Back in 2010, Web Summit was a tiny gathering of “only Irish people in Dublin”, Mr Cosgrove said.

“It wasn’t until 2012 that our first overseas delegates started showing up,” he added.

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair opted for a suit rather than a pullover

Now, the conference has grown to 70,000 delegates with some high-profile speakers. This year, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager are speaking.

In addition, from the technology world, Boston Dynamics’s Marc Raibert, Microsoft president Brad Smith and Huawei chairman Guo Ping are all on stage.