Tub thumper

Unpackaged is filling an interesting niche in London’s retail scene – it’s a market stall turned local store with better environmental credentials than virtually any of the capital’s supermarkets or corner shops, says Clare Dowdy

A retail format that eschews packaged brands has its own identity issues to deal with. So design consultancy Multistorey discovered when it was tasked with creating an image and interior for Unpackaged, a sustainable, 21st century take on the old-fashioned ‘scoop and weigh’ shops.

It started off as a market stall, but founder Catherine Conway last week opened her maiden high street outlet. The site, between London’s Islington and King’s Cross, is on Amwell Street, whose residents have already developed a penchant for quirky independent outlets, including the recent arrival of Timorous Beasties.

Unpackaged has set up shop in the much-loved Grade II-listed Lloyds Dairy. So not only was Multistorey designer Suzy Tuxen dealing with the ‘no brand’ issue, she was implementing a shopfit that specified as little interference to the original interiors as possible. On top of that, this was the consultancy’s first retail interiors job.

Unpackaged came out of Conway’s own interest in buying products that are just that – products. ‘I’m not anti-packaging, I’m anti-excessive packaging,’ she says. She kicked off with the main offenders – dry goods such as rice and nuts, as well as cleaning products. The former are sold from custom-made square tubs, the latter from large Ecover containers. Customers who bring their own bags or Tupperware receive a 50p discount for each purchase.

‘The enemy of living sustainably is lack of planning,’ says Conway, giving the example of nipping to the corner shop when you’ve run out of loo roll and having to buy Andrex when normally you’d buy a worthier brand. ‘So we wanted to be a local shop.’

Despite Unpackaged’s obvious beard-and-sandals provenance, Multistorey was determined to create a modern image. Hence the graphics’ fresh colour palette, and the sleek black or white storage tubs – no wicker baskets here.

Meanwhile, the jar-shaped logo itself ‘stems from the fact that there isn’t any packaging’, says Multistorey creative director Rhonda Drakeford.

In her determination to design as sustainably as possibly, the jar-shaped cut-outs from the tub lids carry chalked-up signage.

For those shoppers who arrive unprepared, Unpackaged supplies stiff, resealable plastic bags, complete with the logo embossed, further proving that even at the non-brand frontiers, a logo doesn’t hurt.

Drakeford admits that the consultancy tussled with these issues. ‘We knew Unpackaged wouldn’t survive without some sort of message, so we thought branding was important,’ she explains.

As for the unbranded nature of the products on sale, ‘people will get used to that’, she believes. ‘The shop branding gives the concept a perceived value.’ l

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