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From CNN+ to Fyre Festival: This collector seeks swag from companies with epic ends

Christina Warren wears a MoviePass T-shirt, a piece of her collection of swag from dead companies.
Christina Warren
Christina Warren wears a MoviePass T-shirt, a piece of her collection of swag from dead companies.

Long after the memories of the epic flameouts of Fyre Festival or CNN+ dwindle, a piece of these companies will live on.

Christina Warren has made sure of that.

For the past six years, the software developer and former journalist has made it a point to collect T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs and PopSockets branded with the names of these spectacularly failed companies.

Warren, currently a developer advocate at GitHub, is also now a bit of a technology and pop culture anthropologist.

Her collection began as a pile of endless swag she'd get at tech conferences, when companies like to hand out beer koozies, shirts and other things branded with their logo.

"Over the years it's turned out that some of those companies have gone out of business in really spectacular ways," she said.

Her formerly useless swag collection turned into an irony lover's goldmine. So she began collecting in earnest, she told NPR, and nabbing items from these major flops that were once thought of as the next Facebook. It's become a fully-fledged hobby and the number of items in her graveyard of items of dead companies total about 20.

The collection spans Enron to CNN+

Warren recently nabbed a CNN+ PopSocket to add to her collection.
/ Christina Warren
/
Christina Warren
Warren recently nabbed a CNN+ PopSocket to add to her collection.

One of her oldest items is a mug from Enron, an energy giant that filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

And the newest addition to her collection is a PopSocket branded with the logo of CNN+, a streaming platform created by the cable news network.

She recently took to Twitter shortly after CNN announced it would be shutting down its new streaming platform to try to get something to add to her collection. "Plz send me CNN+ merch. I will pay."

But Warren quickly noted on Twitter that she isn't trying to make light of what is likely a big loss to the workers behind these companies.

"But also, all CNN+ jokes aside, I'm incredibly sorry to the teams that clearly worked so hard on this launch to have their project shut down so quickly," she posted. "Better fast than dragging it out? I don't know. But my heart goes out to them."

Looking on the bright side, she notes there is both humor and a lesson to learn about buying into the hype of the so-called "next big thing." That's part of why she gets such a kick out of collecting items from these companies.

She said: "I would say what's been interesting about kind of collecting the stuff over the years is that it makes me think more about, why do certain things get the attention they get? And how do they fall out of favor?"

Warren is still on the pursuit of her 'white whale'

Warren wears one of her favorite items from her collection: a T-shirt from the disastrous Fyre Festival.
/ Christina Warren
/
Christina Warren
Warren wears one of her favorite items from her collection: a T-shirt from the disastrous Fyre Festival.

Warren isn't looking for merch from just any business or startup that quickly shuttered. She's looking for the ones that came out of the woodwork with huge fanfare but then failed in an epic way.

"I'm looking at the ones that were flying high, too close to the sun," she said.

Think Fyre Festival, mobile streaming service Quibi, and Theranos, she said. Companies who all promised a changed world, but upon a closer look at their product, didn't make much sense.

Fast garnered a lot of buzz with its goal of helping people expedite online purchases, but said earlier this month it was shutting down.

"Fast is another one of those companies where the hype didn't seem to match with what the company was doing. That makes the fall that much more extreme. Which to me then makes it funnier to be out someplace wearing a shirt from one of those things," Warren said, while wearing a Fast sweatshirt.

Warren pinches pennies when it comes to her collection. She doesn't want to spend more than $75 on any one item. She nabbed the Fast sweatshirt off of eBay for $25.

Favorites of the collection are her Fyre Festival T-shirts.

She nabbed her shirts — still with the tags on — before the two documentaries ran and before overpriced, fake items hit eBay, a problem she said she is seeing a lot.

"The problem with this is that the more popular the failed companies become, the more fake counterfeit merchandise becomes available," she said. "I don't want the fake merchandise. I want it to be the real stuff."

It makes her hobby a bit difficult when she wants the big name things.

"My white whale, the thing I haven't been able to obtain yet, is something officially from Theranos," she said.

With the high-profile trial, podcasts, and now a new Hulu show, it's been impossible.

"I hope that someday I'll be able to get something, whether it's like a mug. I would even take a pen, you know, like a ballpoint pen," she said.

She's hoping old employees or people who saved freebies from Theranos events may have something legitimate she can grab to add to her ever-growing graveyard.

"There's some hope."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.