Case study | Sustainable retail - Museums Association

Case study | Sustainable retail

Manchester Museum’s shop is moving away from single-use plastics to focus on locally sourced products that better represent the museum’s value
Emma Gittins
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Illustration by Lizzie Lomax

Manchester Museum, part of the University of Manchester, is closed for a £15m transformation – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand the museum and rethink how it cares for the world and its inhabitants. The mission is to build understanding between cultures and a more sustainable world, and this is driven by the museum’s values to be inclusive, imaginative and caring.

This commitment extends to every corner of the building, including our shop.

When the museum reopens in February 2023, visitors will find a much bigger, beautifully decorated museum gift shop on the ground floor, designed by Lancashire-based Artistry House. The products on offer will be inspired by the museum’s collections and made by local, diverse and sustainable suppliers.

Circular reasoning

One of the main objectives of our sustainable retail strategy is to move away from single-use plastics across all product areas, particularly children’s toys. But sourcing sustainably can result in a more expensive offer.

We are working creatively with suppliers to offer more products that are sustainable but affordable. Using alternative materials is key: many products are being made from organic cotton and wool and natural rubber, while cards and prints come in compostable packaging.

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The new shop will feature brands that strive to be sustainable and affordable, such as Green Toys, which makes its range from 100% recycled plastic. We are also exploring different models for the future, such as circular economy principles – gain maximum value from products while in use, then recover and reuse materials.

With all museum staff receiving carbon literacy training, the retail team is well placed to support the museum’s role in supporting ecological thinking and action.

Staff also have opportunities to attend museum projects such as Local Matters, which addresses how poverty and disadvantage are responded to in the museum’s work, and the Indigenise Speaker Series, which brings together indigenous scholars from around the world and seeks to support different perspectives on museum practice, decolonisation and indigenisation. All staff bring this insight into their areas of work across the museum.

Local heros

Manchester Museum’s commitment to care is built on collaboration, and we are passionate about our work with local communities. We recently launched an exclusive product collection with Salford-based Art with Heart, which produces performances, workshops and people-led creative projects for community groups, arts organisations and schools.

A range of artworks is being produced by students at Venture Arts, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities to reach their full potential through visual arts and culture. We will also have bespoke collections from local makers including Old Man & Magpie and Little Northern Soaphouse.

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Manchester has a wealth of creative talent, so local artists and makers will feature prominently in the new shop, helping us reduce the need for transport and our carbon footprint. We also have established partnerships with brands such as Just Trade, which works with artisans across the world to create handmade ethical jewellery and is committed to the 10 principles of fair trade set out by the World Fair Trade Organisation.

Manchester Museum’s reduced capacity due to Covid regulations and partial closure during completion of building work saw sales drop 75% in 2021. But our opening exhibition, Golden Mummies of Egypt, was a huge hit on its tour to the US and China; along with our new permanent galleries, it is expected to bring around one million visitors to the museum in the first year.

This will be the first time that visitors will enter and exit through the shop, which has the museum’s values at its heart. Meanwhile, we have an online shop and we’re hosting pop-ups, including a successful store at Altrincham Market, so people can still purchase beautiful and sustainable products.

Emma Gittins is a buyer and product developer at Manchester Museum

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