The Why, Wow and How of Sustainability in Visual Merchandising

April 08, 2021
selfridges sustainability window display | The why, wow and how of sustainability in Visual Merchandising | Studio Rêver | Design Blog
Selfridges ‘Waste is Rubbish’ window display as a part of Project Earth

Over the past year, with everyone essentially living on the internet, the conversation around sustainability, especially sustainable or conscious consumerism, has significantly amplified. People had the opportunity to reflect on how their behaviour is impacting the environment and led to a dramatic shift in preferences. Aside from buying good quality products, people also care about what they buy, where they buy it from, and the story behind it all.

So why should brands, more specifically retail stores, care about sustainability, aside from it being a CSR manifestation? The driving force behind the advent of such sustainable practices appears to be the desires of modern-day consumers. A newly identified need among consumers is for sustainability, particularly among millennials. According to a Euromonitor report, the demand for commodities today is built around the demand for sustainability, authenticity, simplicity.

Here comes the fun part, because this is where we as visual merchandisers come in — simply caring isn’t enough, you kinda have to show that you do! It is of course the actual commitment to cause that matters the most, but it also needs to be effectively communicated to the consumers to build brand loyalty and meaningful consumer relationships. Retail stores, be it permanent or pop-ups, are the point of contact between brands and consumers. It is the easiest way, well second to social media maybe, to convey to them your identity and provide motivators to engage with your brand. It is no longer just about what you’re selling, but also how you’re selling.

Doesn’t it seem counterproductive to use environmentally harmful materials and practices to help promote a brand advocating sustainable products and practices? Each element from packaging to in-store window displays needs to reflect the brand’s commitment. Not only does it help the cause for sustainability, but it also challenges us as visual merchandising professionals to up our game and constantly think of new and creative ways to minimise waste.

Window Displays have always been a platform to spark conversation or convey a message to the consumer. Be it a new product, a festive offer or collaboration, window and store displays are a popular messaging strategy. Check out our blog on PDAs: Public Displays of Art and their relevance in commercial branding to know more about that!

Anya Hindmarch sustainability window display | The why, wow and how of sustainability in Visual Merchandising | Studio Rêver | Design Blog
Anya Hindmarch’s ‘I Am A Plastic Bag’ display by Studio XAG

While some brands are setting precedence for what sustainability in visual merchandising looks like, several others are jumping on the bandwagon and we love to see it! One of our favourite examples of trendsetters in this line is Anya Hindmarch’s “I am a Plastic Bag’ campaign, using recycled plastic from bottles to create luxury handbags, with 32 bottles to a bag ratio. Hindmarch used window displays in an unconventional way to launch the collection during London Fashion Week. The designer’s stores across the city were closed off and filled with over 90,000 plastic bottles, recovered from local communities, to raise awareness towards her cause. That is roughly the same number of bottles that go into a landfill in under 10 minutes! If that doesn’t shock a passerby into stop using plastic bottles then what will.

benetton sustainable store | The why, wow and how of sustainability in Visual Merchandising | Studio Rêver | Design Blog
Benetton’s flagship store in Florence made using sustainable materials

Approaching this from an added retail design perspective, recently, United Colours of Benetton unveiled its sustainable store concept in Florence. Their one-of-a-kind (for now) store features sustainable materials in retail design on a scale like never before. Drawing inspiration from their Italian roots, the flooring in the store is made entirely using gravel from the river Piave and waste wood from the aftermath of a storm. Textile industry scraps are used in several elements in the interiors of the store, for instance, repurposing used buttons for retails stands. In addition to everything from flooring and shelving, to mannequins being made from up-cycled materials, the store is also intelligently designed to be energy efficient. Benetton aims to set the standard in sustainable retail design, not just for their future stores, but for the entire industry.

A pioneer in sustainable fashion, Stella McCartney’s London flagship store is the perfect embodiment of the brand. The store incorporated recycled paper from London offices into its design and uses mannequins made from sugarcane bioplastic.

Ace & Tate Sustainable store | The why, wow and how of sustainability in Visual Merchandising | Studio Rêver | Design Blog
Ace & Tate Antwerp store by Plasticiet

Another retailer embracing their responsibility towards the environment in everything they do, including building their new stores, is the international eyewear brand Ace & Tate. Two of their stores, the first in Zurich and the other in Antwerp, are designed using recycled plastic, all sourced locally. They were spot-on with the thought, design, story, as well as in tying their brand to the local community. The brand’s ‘we’re working on it’ platform and ideology is inspiring us all to keep taking small steps in embracing sustainability.

Ganni Sustainable store | The why, wow and how of sustainability in Visual Merchandising | Studio Rêver | Design Blog
Ganni’s NYC store with recycled plastic podiums

Scandinavian clothing brand Ganni’s New York City store embodies sustainability in several elements from up-cycled display shelves to furniture as well as rugs made out of old and used fabrics. Their podiums and shelves made from recycled plastics such as bottles and chopping boards add to their vibrant aesthetic.

Selfridges sustainability window display | The why, wow and how of sustainability in Visual Merchandising | Studio Rêver | Design Blog
Selfridges’ Project Earth window display

With a rise in conscious consumerism, multi-brand departmental stores such as Selfridges & Co., too have announced their commitment to sustainable practices. Their store and window displays help convey their goals as outlined in their five year ‘Project Earth’ initiative to promote sustainability and ethical shopping practices. Project Earth signages are made using recycled materials and window displays are aimed at starting a conversation around environmentally conscious practices in the fashion and retail industry. In an interview with the Guardian, Selfridges Group MD Anne Pitcher highlighted,

“I think [consumers] will shop with businesses that they trust, that they know care, businesses that they feel are their friends or that they can relate to, businesses that choose doing the right thing over making money, and businesses who are transparent in the way they do business”

Sustainability need not be some far-out fantasy, it can be a very achievable reality, one towards which there is a growing global interest. These are just a select few examples that stood out in their commitment towards sustainable visual merchandising and retail design. There might be a long way to go, but these could become the norm and not the exception.

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