Sustainability in both concept and practice has a long history in Scandinavian cultures in general, and Sweden in particular. As consumers become more conscious of the finite nature of materials, upcycling has to eventually be considered more mainstream. We applaud this type of public and private sector leadership that is the very definition of entrepreneurial conservation.
Thanks to the BBC for this story.
Anna Bergstrom had a dilemma. She loved the glitzy world of high fashion, but had also come to feel that it was unsustainable and bad for the planet. She’s now found peace of mind by running a stylish shopping mall in Sweden, where everything is second-hand.
“Do you notice the smell?” Anna Bergstrom says, as she surveys her mall from the mezzanine level. “It smells nice here, doesn’t it?”
It’s very important to Anna that this place is enticing, because she feels it is making a statement. Everything for sale here, in 14 specialist shops covering everything from clothes to DIY tools, is recycled.
She is usually turned off by the smell of second-hand stores, she explains, even though she adores vintage fashion. For most people flea-markets and charity shops carry a stigma, she thinks – a mark left by countless bad experiences. Too often they are worthy but depressing, Anna says. Her mission is to bring second-hand shopping into the mainstream.
The mall itself is spacious and appealing, almost Ikea-like. An art installation – a tree and circular bench all fashioned from recycled materials – greets customers at the entrance. There is even a coffee shop and gift-wrapping service.
The mall is called ReTuna. “Tuna” because that’s the nickname for the city where it is based – Eskilstuna, an hour’s train journey west of Stockholm – and “Re” because the goods on sale have been recycled or repurposed.
It was set up by Eskilstuna’s local government in 2015, in a warehouse which used to house trucks for a logistics company.
The shops inside it are run as businesses rather than charities, and each pays a combined charge of rent and business rates.
Anna Bergstrom’s business mantra which she repeats to each shopkeeper is, “Do it like Hugo Boss.” She wants the mall to stand toe-to-toe with a regular, commercial, glitzy mall.
There is a sports shop stuffed with skis and (slightly scuffed) sledges, a kids’ shop bursting with toys (a little faded), a bookshop, a DIY store, a homeware specialist, even a pet accessory shop. As well as “pre-loved” items for sale, there are also many that have been upcycled. These are unwanted items that have been taken apart and turned into new objects.
In a store that specialises in handmade household ornaments, Bergstrom is keen to show off a nice example of this, from one of her star tenants. Shopkeeper Maria Larsson proudly shows off her best-selling product – a container that resembles the body of a pine cone. Each segment of its skin has been cut from leather jackets – upcycling in action. However, Maria confesses to being a little worried. She is struggling to keep up with customer demand for this design because she can’t get enough jackets.
This makes more sense once you understand ReTuna’s location. It’s right next to Eskilstuna’s recycling centre, which is also run by the municipality. A steady stream of cars passes through it, bringing cardboard, mattresses and other typical unwanted household items.
But many of these cars go past the metal skips and then head down a ramp to a road that runs right next to the mall. Here locals drop off their unwanted household things if there is a possibility they can be resold or upcycled. In a vast area beneath the mall, a small army of workers in fluorescent jackets sifts through the donations, carrying them to designated zones.
Every day the shopkeepers can come down and inspect what has arrived: kids’ toys, household appliances, gardening equipment… perhaps even a leather jacket. This is what they call their “treasure”, says Anna. Their business rent gives them privileged access to it.
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