There’s No Such Thing as a Free Watch

Jenny Odell (PDF) contributed this piece to the Museum of Capitalism’s opening exhibition:

On July 2017, a visitor to the Museum of Capitalism contributed a watch (from here on referred to as “our watch”) to the museum’s artifact drive. In his form, he noted that Folsom & Co., a supposedly San Francisco-based company, used Instagram to offer the watch “free,” but with $7 shipping.


The page on the customer review site that is supposed to be for Folsom & Co. instead contains reviews of a company called So coastal, which also sells “free” watches that are poorly reviewed. #So coastal shows up as a hashtag included in some of Folsom & Co.’s Instagram posts, alongside other misleading or nonsensical hashtags like #newyorkfashionweek (not during New York Fashion Week), or #foreverandeverdior. Looking further, So coastal turns out to be a near-identical website to Folsom & Co., except that it claims to be in the South of Fifth neighborhood of Miami Beach, with products inspired by Miami neighborhoods and phenomena, like “Art Basal (sic).” Our watch, called “The Jones” by Folsom & Co., is called “The Elite” by So coastal.

Literally the only difference between the sites is where they claim to be based. Folsom & Co. draws on the San Francisco hipster-barbershop aesthetic circa 2010, and names its watches after streets in San Francisco. So coastal, on the other hand, strives to seem more beachy, offering sunglasses in addition to watches. The header image of So coastal’s site is a royalty-free stock image of a surfer from Shutterstock. (Folsom and Co.’s header image, meanwhile, is ripped from an article about Simple Watch Company, an Australian brand.)

I absolutely love this piece.

Tangentially, you’ve got to wonder how many different industries have been radically overhauled by the rise of fast fashion. Half of the stores in your average mall and a bunch of the kiosks seem to be selling effectively the same products with different names on them. Go on Etsy these days and you can find dozens of copies of the exact same nautical-themed bracelet sold by different vendors. I’m not referring to similar-looking variants of the same item, but identical items sold under different brands.

As Odell notes in her piece, it isn’t any one factor — one-click DIY shopping websites, social media advertising, fast fashion, or increased access to fulfilment option — that has made this sort of thing possible. It’s all of those factors combined.