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ReTuna Mall, Sweden

Centre manager, Anna Bergström

interviewed by Zoe Schoon


"We are an inspiration for other businesses who see that we can make money being sustainable"

ReTuna Mall in Eskilstuna is the world’s first shopping mall where everything is recycled. Revolutionising shopping in a climate-smart way, the shopping mall devoted to selling entirely pre-loved and reusable items.

What was the inspiration behind the mall?

A local politician came up with the idea in response to the EU Waste Plan which stipulates that all countries in the EU must reduce and reuse waste. They took the idea to Government in 2006/7 and in 2012 the decision was made. The job of running the mall was given to our local energy company Eskilstuna Energi & Miljö, which is who I work for.

You opened in August 2015. Since then the idea of the circular economy has become much better known, but what was the reaction back then?

Reactions were positive from the beginning and have been since then. We only had one complaint in the beginning which was that all materials now go to ReTuna and not to local charities. But this has resolved itself now as it related to second hand clothes and we get too many of these to handle anyway! A significant proportion are shared with our local charity shops.

What are your best sellers? What items do you find hardest to sell?

There are no materials that are necessarily harder or easier to sell. We receive literally everything you have in the household. Some customers think we’re expensive as they think we’re a flea market, but our good shops have a loyal following with customers who come every day. We often have dealers looking for something special and this is cool as it’s the circular economy. As time has gone by, ReTuna’s store holders have become a bit wiser about the prices that some items can fetch in the hands of a dealer.

What do you do with items that you cannot resell?

Our store owners dispose of them responsibly, or wherever possible we supply to schools and pre-schools. They get quite a lot of their handicrafts materials from us.

How do you pick your store holders?

Each shop has to have a business plan before they are allowed to establish themselves. We only have one second-hand shop which is a charity and the other shops are more specific. For example, we have one sports equipment/bike store, one for kids, 3 different shops for furniture (each with different colours/types). Stock changes all the time depending on what’s brought in. One month you might find 5, 6 or 7 different clothing brands and another month you might find lots of different furniture brands. Obviously different stuff sells better at different times of year, so for example right now, with the onset of spring, bikes are selling well and people are coming to get bikes repaired.

Do you have any plans to expand and seek further sites?

We don’t but we are an inspiration for other businesses who see us as successful, and see that we can make money being sustainable. I really hope this helps established brands realise that it’s OK to resell their own brands too. A lot of brands in Sweden are now running campaigns where you can leave your old phone and get a new one; they are starting to see that it can pay to be sustainable. I get lots of calls from people all over the globe who have heard of us and are interested in doing something similar in their own countries; calls from India, the US, Australia, Japan, Canada…Sweden has a tradition of recycling, so it’s easy for us to get this movement started.

Can you explain the typical journey of an item that I may bring in to be recycled?

An item is taken to the drop off centre, staff will either come out and help you unload your car or you can go to the recycling centre and sort it in the containers yourself… All items are then taken inside and sorted by our staff. Legally it must be left as “waste”. We then allocate it to appropriate stores – each store has its own depot so we sort items into their depot. The store holders then take the items decide what they will repair, sell or destroy.

What advice would you give somebody setting up a similar venture?

It took a lot of courage because we were being questioned all the time from all sides. One thing I wish we had at ReTuna is a workshop, a space where all our store holders can work together as they repair and sort stuff. It’s hard for them to repair in their shops whilst customers are there and it would be good for there to be somewhere where they can relax while they work.

We read a lot about how wasteful the fashion industry is. Are there any particular brands you admire for their efforts towards sustainability?

The fashion business have a lot to do! More and more fashion brands are opening up about their supply chains but I feel they have a lot of hidden areas and if they had the courage to be transparent, we would have more confidence in them. The brand I most admire in Sweden is Phillippa K as they are trying to be more circular in their operations. The fact is, there is already enough fabric in the world. We don’t need to produce anymore at all. It’s hard to see sustainability in producing more fabric.

What do people tell you that they most enjoy about a visit to your mall?

They love the concept and if you’re a person living in the locality you really feel that you’re part of the business because you leave stuff with us, you then come and buy stuff from us, keep it at home for a bit and then bring it back again. We try to supply schools and encourage them to do their shopping at the mall so as to ensure we profile the up-cycle business as the way forward for future generations.

How do you know that you are reducing waste?

We try to measure the reduced waste in turnover. Since we started we have valued our reduced waste at over 30,000,000 Swedish krona, which is 2,838,494.69 euros / £2,465,212.31 GBP.

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