Lessons for the High Street: How to make sustainability sexy

20 Beak Street: in all its non-plastic glory

In the middle of Carnaby quarter there is an unusual looking shop. 20 Beak Street is currently home to a pop-up which will be open until the middle of January and is dedicated to showing people the effects of plastic on the oceans of the world.

It sounds very worthy and possibly a hard sell in one of the most fashionable quarters of London given the poor environmental record of the clothing industry but the reality is an object lesson in how to fit a shop to a place through design, influencers, interaction and curation and as such is something the high street could learn from.

First noteworthy thing to mention is that the outside and inside of the entire unit is completely encased in a striking wallpaper made up of images of plastic found in the oceans which is beautiful and threatening at the same time. In an area full of dramatic shop fronts it still really stands out.

The site’s use of social media and influencers is also key to its success as it sells a raft of Insta-friendly, guest-designed plastic replacement articles. There are, for example, a range of metal thermal flasks/bottles which have been drawn by celebrities ranging from Harry Kane to Bob Geldof to Princess Eugenie to Rita Ora – which tick all the bases in terms of interest groups as it features sport, music, art, fashion and royalty!

In fact the items for sale have been very carefully chosen to represent the five most thrown away plastic items in the UK, namely water bottles, plastic bags, plastic cutlery, plastic hot drinks cups and food wrapping.

A selection of designer bottles

Slightly surprisingly one of the best sellers is the cling film replacement – a bees wax wrap.  Perhaps because it is a chance to own something designed by Kate Moss or perhaps because it lasts a year and is very effective. Or perhaps both. Other items include tote bags and sets of reusable cutlery.

All monies raised are divided between the WWF, which receives 75%, and ocean clean up charity Project O, which gets the remaining 25%, with everything retailing in the £15 to £25 bracket.

The shop is staffed by volunteers who sign up to do shifts through the week and when Retail Insider visited it was busy all the time. According to one of the volunteers, the drive to own something with a connection to a celebrity has strong appeal but people are also very interested in learning more about why their favourite icons have bothered to support the venture.

In terms of the shop design, the dwell time seems to be longer than the relatively small number of shoppable goods would indicate and this could well be down to the varied interactions for the consumer.

There is a wall where the influencers at the launch party have written slogans which the public can ponder and add to. And at the back of the shop there are eight or nine large artistic prints of seafood platters shot with plastic additions to the plate which aim to highlight the amount of plastic that we are all ingesting when we eat fish.

According to another volunteer, a fair amount of SKY employees come and visit as the SKY website devotes so much time and space to the issue of plastic in the sea (Sky Ocean Rescue is a major backer of the related #PassOnPlastic campaign) but plenty of visitors are just people walking by who are struck by the unusual appearance of the shop and enticed in. Landlord Shaftesbury deserves credit for allowing this winning formula to make a very serious subject relevant for people in a very consumer-friendly environment.