Project Ocean Is "Retail Activism" at its Best


Photo: B. Alter

Here's a new catch-phrase: retail activism. It refers to stores that get involved with political issues to raise awareness, raise money and presumably sell stuff. A great example in London right now is taking place at Selfridges' Department Store (think Saks Fifth Avenue in the USA) which is really pushing out the boat with their new campaign Project Ocean.

It's five weeks of programmes highlighting the impact of overfishing the oceans. With a million people a day passing their spectacular front store windows on busy Oxford Street, something has to click.


Photo: B. Alter

Selfridges is having a green and fishy moment with this one. They have teamed up with some serious partners: the Zoological Society of London, Marine Conservation Society, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund to present a series of lectures, public education, fun games and fabulous store windows, all in support of their campaign against overfishing the seas.

So what is going on here? Selfridges doesn't appear to have changed their environmental policies within the store. They still sell outrageously useless and extravagant clothes and fly merchandise in from all over the world and light the place up like a Christmas tree. And yet...


Photo: B. Alter

Clearly the owners (Canada's Weston family) think that the environment is good business here in London (not in the Canadian stores however). They have already had new eco designers in their street window, then they had Guerrilla Gardening.

The Creative Director is a daughter of the family business; she is cool and young(ish) and she must think that their customers are concerned about the environment and wanting more information: in a gorgeous and accessible way.

Food is an easy place to start--everyone is concerned about eating better and healthier. But selling fish is not the main business of this store so the political aspect of not overfishing the seas must have some resonance. The curator of the event says that he hopes to "sell" the campaign to the store's 40,000 daily customers.

So even if "retail activism" is just a new sales ploy to appease our guilty shopping consciences, it would be churlish not to enjoy and appreciate Selfridges' spectacular efforts.


Photo: B. Alter

The front windows are filled with confiscated coral, as part of their exhibit to remind viewers of the destruction taking place in the sea. The Washed Up exhibit is a glorious display of vintage and haute couture fashion (including one of Lady GaGa's hats).


Photo: B. Alter

The Food Hall is festooned with fish mobiles and there are cooking demo's taking place. Only fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council will be available in the shop and a small pamphlet showing endangered fish as well as an iPhone app are being given out.

In the basement there are showings of films including The End of the Line, as well as an exhibit of confiscated coral. There is a series of lectures, including heavy weights such as Katherine Hamnett, Charles Clover, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and David de Rothschild.

Photo: B. Alter
Money is being raised for Project Ocean for the Zoological Society of London to create a marine reserve. Selfridges has also committed money to set up a new reserve in the Philipines. By buying from the new range of tee-shirts by Katherine Hamnett a portion will be donated to the Project.

More on Selfridges Green Initiatives
London Department Store Features Eco Jewellery Successes
Seed Bombs are a Business Now

Tags: Buy Local | Exhibits | Greenwashing