In this feature article our MA International Journalism student, Rebecca Greenway speaks with local Swansea business owners about their eco-friendly approach to retail.
Russ from Balance: responsible living, Sion from RAVS, and Matt from Hiatus might have diverse backgrounds and businesses, but they are all connected through their common goal of limiting theirs and others negative effects on the environment, and their hopes to positively affect those in the community.
These three Swansea shop owners have decided to take the issue of climate change into their own hands by limiting the city’s waste and carbon footprint on a community level.
Russ Storer, opened Balance: responsible living, a refill shop in Sketty, a little over a year ago. Balance is a refill shop where you can bring your own containers or buy one of their donated containers to fill up and bring home to eliminate the added waste of store-bought containers. The shop mainly sells dry foods such as oats, lentils, and pasta. There is also a section for cleaning products and personal hygiene products like shampoo and conditioner.
Russ started looking into sustainable business a couple of years ago. He would go to London every couple of months for a break, and while he was there, he began shopping in zero waste shops. Upon his return to Swansea he wanted to continue shopping in an environmentally friendly way, but there was nothing in his area that replicated how he had shopped in London.
After six months of waiting for someone else to open a refill shop, he decided to do it himself. Russ enrolled on a business course and looked into business loans and opened the shop in July 2019.
According to RECOUP (RECycling of Used Plastics Limited), households in the UK use 13 billion plastic bottles a year. Of these, approximately 2.5 billion plastic bottles are sent to landfill each year in the UK and 3 million are incinerated.
So how is this little shop making a difference? In their first year they have saved about 4,000 plastic containers in just bottles alone from going to the landfill. This is without considering the single-use plastics such as pasta and rice packets not going to waste due to the shop.
Russ realizes there is still a long way to go, “4000 sounds like a lot, but it’s not really compared to the amount that actually go into landfill or that’s being recycled but you do have to start somewhere”.
Balance has a loyal customer base and has become a part of the Sketty and wider Swansea community, and because of this Russ feels as though he is able to give back to the community too. “We’ve been supported massively by the community and in return we want to do the same for them’”, he commented.
Although Russ would like to expand his current store, this goal comes from a desire to offer more products to his customers, eliminating even more waste from landfills rather than paying himself. In fact, Russ hands out free liter pickers to customers or whoever wants to help when they have had a good month. “We’ve got to cover the overheads, but anything extra, then I like to give it back”, Russ says.
Recently one of their charitable ventures within the community was in aid of local food banks. One frequent customer of Balance donated home-made masks to the shop which Russ sold with all of the proceeds going to buying bulk foods to contribute to the food banks.
Another local business owner who is interested in sustainable retail is Sion Williams. He is the owner of the vintage shop, The Retro and Vintage Store – AKA – RAVS. Sion always knew he wanted to own business. So, when the opportunity arose in his second year of university at Swansea to create a business plan to pitch to investors, Sion and his partners had the idea for RAVS. Sion is now a fourth-year business management student running RAVS as a completely student-run business.
It was important to Sion and his partners for their business to be as sustainable as possible. Most clothes at RAVs are second-hand and the others are second-hand in some way as they have been passed through vintage and thrift shops. They also try to limit their waste by using recycled paper, chalk boards for their signs rather than paper or poster-board, and their free delivery service to those in the Swansea area is either walked or cycled over to limit their carbon footprint.
The UK is the epicenter of the fast fashion industry as each person on average buys 26.7 kg of new clothes each year. Due to this, clothing is now becoming single-use, and as the UK Environmental Audit Committee found in its 2017-2019 report, following current trends of increasing amounts of synthetic materials like polyester in clothing, by 2050 the fashion industry would monopolize 26% of the global carbon budget to keep the planet within 2 degrees of warming.
Still, the demand for fast fashion is undeniable. Fast-fashion giants such as Next and ASOS are the 2nd and 4th largest fashion brands in the UK respectively. With brands like Boohoo (which own the online retailers PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal) becoming more popular, the fast-fashion industry is still on the rise. Sion sees the biggest reason for the motivation to buy from these fast-fashion retailers as the low price.
Sion sees RAVS as a part of not only the student community, with 80% of their customers being students, but also a place for those less fortunate or those who are having a hard time. Located close to the city centre, Sion acknowledges the homeless who come into his store, “It’s actually nice for them to come in and have a chat, because no one really has a conversation with them about their day”. He loves that RAVS is a place for everyone in the community, no matter who they are.
Sion’s future hopes for RAVS is for it to continue as a student-run business after he graduates from Swansea this year, and for it to remain “a gem in the arcade” rather than to become a chain or expand.
Then there is Matt Bryer has been working in the wholesale side of apparel in the surf, skate and snowboarding industry since he was 16, supplying UK retailers all over the country with brands such as Vans. Matt opened Hiatus in September 2020 with the hopes of showing his industry that a sustainable business model can be successful.
But on a more personal level, the shop was born out of Matt’s love of the outdoors and his appreciation for Swansea’s and the Gower’s landscape. “I spend a lot of my time outdoors and that’s what inspired the shop because I want to see that the world is going to be looked after”.
Matt’s ‘passion project’, Hiatus, is an outdoors-inspired shop selling surf and skate hardware alongside the apparel that goes with these outdoor sports. Hiatus only works with brands that have sustainable projects and hand-pick the best that those brands have to offer. They also sell home wares like cups, candles and utensils which are sustainably sourced. Matt explains that “everything that is in the store is in there for a reason and has a story behind it”.
Another aspect of the shop is its refill station. Working with the UK brand Fill, they are provided with bulk liquids such as washing up liquid and soaps. Customers are able to fill up their own containers or use the stores glass containers that they sell to fill and bring back to limit the need to buy new plastics.
The hope for Hiatus is for it to be a hub for inspiration and education in the community. Matt states, “we want to be as friendly as possible for anyone to come in and ask anything we stock to hopefully inspire them and they feel like we’ve done our homework”.
Their goal is to inspire the community to not only shop sustainably, but locally as well. “The biggest achievement will be to convince and educate people on how to shop going forward and also how important it is to support small, local businesses, not just Hiatus”.
While the ‘big business’ world holds connotations of cut-throat business tactics and perhaps insensitive production methods, what can be observed with these local shops was a completely different aura of community-focused collaboration working towards a united goal of change.
Sion from RAVS believes that smaller shops sometimes “take inspiration” from larger, cut-throat corporations, however in sustainable business he sees competition as “a good thing not a bad thing”. Likewise, Matt from Hiatus does not mind competition, “the more awareness the better” he says.
This refreshing and encouraging perspective on competition within their own industry seems to echo throughout their collective business goals. One could assume that the immediate and natural move for businesses that are successful would be expansion and growth to maximize their own profits. However, these shop owners are focused on giving back to the community through charity projects, educating and changing the minds of people in Swansea, or just being a place to come and have a chat.