Shopping malls aren’t exactly the first thing you would associate with environmental sustainability. Most commonly, malls are places of mass consumption, where fast fashion, fast food and other disposable goods are displayed and voraciously consumed. But one shopping mall in Eskilstuna, Sweden, is different. A truly ground-breaking establishment, Retuna is a shopping mall that only sells second-hand and upcycled merchandise.
Filled with second-hand shops, a conference space and an eco-friendly cafè, Retuna is a shopping space, but also a place of education and inspiration. The airy venue is contemporary and welcoming, and art installations (made from recycled materials, of course) fill the space between the boutiques and cafès. Shops in the mall offer fashion, children’s goods, technology and more.
The woman running the show, mall manager Anna Bergström, is on a mission to make repurposed goods cool – and she is carrying forward an idea that was alive in the community before it evolved into what it is today.
“A local member of the Miljöpartiet (the Swedish environmental political party, ed’s note) came up with the idea in 2006-2007, and brought forward the suggestion to the municipality”, Anna tells Vilda. “According to our waste treatment plan’s EU directives is for everyone to minimise waste, view it as unused resources, and focus on re-using. The idea was rolled around politicians and municipality staff until a decision was made in 2012. When I took over the role of mall manager in 2015, there was already a business plan in place, and the construction of a recycling central alongside our existing property. My job was to anchor the concept in our community, establish key people, create manuals and prepare the ideal circumstances to open the centre in August 2015.”
What makes Retuna different is that it’s located next to the local recycling centre, where the goods to be repurposed are collected. “Locals who come here to get rid of trash can instead hand it in to us”, explains Anna. “We also have a container at each recycling centre in the towns of Eskilstuna and Strängnäs, where people can leave things to be donated to us.”
What happens to the merchandise once it’s donated? “Our collection station Returen receives, sorts through and distributes the goods to the appropriate stores inside the mall according to the assortment description in every shop’s business plan. The shop then sorts through the goods again, and repairs and upcycles things, prices them and puts them up for sale.
Retuna is not only a shopping space – it is also an educational facility, hosting lectures and workshops on recycling and reusing. What has the response been? According to Anna, enthusiasm with space left for action: “Everyone loves the concept and is surprised that there aren’t other establishments like this. But the challenge is still there to actually act and change your shopping behaviours. More and more people are choosing recycling, but it’s still far from being mainstream.”
This year, Anna was chosen for the award of Societal Changemaker of the Year by Swedish business magazine Veckans Affärer. What does this accolade mean to her? “That we have managed to get the concept to work! I have the world’s coolest and bravest tenants at Retuna, who are where they should be every day, working hard. We’re not entirely happy with the profitability yet, but this award and others confirm to us that we are on the right track and that we are breaking through the noise. Hopefully more people will find out about our mall and will want to come and shop here.”
Does Anna believe that the environmental crisis can prompt people to bridge the gap between second-hand shopping and fashion and lifestyle trends? How do we make upcycling “cooler”? She is realistic but optimistic: “All changes to the norm take time. We have managed to change attitudes in a short while, so I think that change is near. We have to keep at it – patience is the secret. People buy things because they need them or because they want to look good. If we can show that our items can have the same function, we will have taken a share of the traditional market.”
Retuna holds guided tours, mending workshops and more events every Monday.
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All photos courtesy of Retuna