Sustainable Shakespeare - going green in the Globe Shop
Our Globe Shop has the environment and strong, bold design at its heart, explains Head of Retail Management, Meghan Cole
If, in the words of Greta Thunberg, governments are failing us when it comes to the climate crisis, what can we as consumers do instead? Or should retailers be stepping up? The Globe Shop is having a very good go at working through these pressing questions.
Our Shop is comparative in size to similar heritage and cultural retail outlets, and turns over roughly £1.8m a year (its boom month is July, when our Summer Season is in full swing). What sets it apart is its stock – nearly all of it is exclusive to us at the Globe – and our staff, who are responsible for developing most of the products.
This includes our Head of Retail Management Meghan Cole, who has a degree in printmaking and still practises. “I don’t know if it’s the solvent dyes,” she says, “but it can be very relaxing.” Her shop “tries to make Shakespeare very accessible – it’s in no way ‘ye oldie worldie’. Our take is very modern. After all, Shakespeare’s words can still touch us 400 years later.” Our Shop’s core base is impulse purchasers, many of whom are non-native English speakers, and recent success has come from using play quotes in bold designs that exploit the immediacy of printmaking.
Among our regular top three bestsellers in the Shop is the To bee range – applied to T-shirts, badges, and other items – featuring a bee encircled by the famous phrase from Hamlet. Meghan bought the design from Rowanne Anderson, one of our Retail Assistants and a lino print artist who specified the image only be used on environmentally sustainable products; no leather or plastics.
“I have quite a few members of the team who are very interested in environmental issues and are vegan and so forth,” Meghan says. “They basically challenged me to see if I could make the Shop greener.” It has taken her a year to look at every single product, and how each was being delivered to her and then sold on. “I didn’t want to ‘greenwash’,” she says, “I wanted to be genuinely green.”
Plastic toy swords are out and wooden ones are in, from a German company which manages its own forest, “so we know exactly where the wood for each sword comes from”, Meghan says. Her supplier for T-shirts and hoodies, which bear designs of the theatre and lines including ‘All the world’s a stage’, has a Soil Association organic-printing certificate, “so we know that he’s not just disposing of dye waste in a way that could be damaging,” she adds.
“Some things have added a bit of cost,” Meghan says, “but overall, we’ve made a saving.” She was surprised to learn how much she was paying for individual plastic packages on incoming stock, and that removing wrappers from T-shirts would boost sales by 20%. “We don’t need all this stuff,” she says, “and it actually looks better displayed without it.”
The biggest challenge has been suppliers. “I’ve had to go back over and over again and say, ‘No, it’s still coming in plastic.’ And eventually, if they really don’t get it, I’ve actually swapped to someone who can do that for us. I’ve even had to sign disclaimers saying if stuff arrives scratched, I’m not going to blame them. But we haven’t had any damage.”
There were red herrings to avoid. Meghan looked into printing posters onto recycled paper, but “you’d have to de-ink, then pulp used paper (and a lot of water is involved in that), then make it into new paper”. Her printer has a Forestry Commission certificate and works with managed forests, overall meaning lower energy costs.
She also thought about bamboo as an alternative to plastic for travel cups, but found it wasn’t environmentally sustainable, though “it has that image”. It’s mostly produced in China, where lower ecological standards mean possibly damaging processes in terms of waste and labour.
Though considering sustainability like this might be a learning curve for Meghan, retail has been her home for nearly two decades. She has worked at Paperchase, where within a month she was managing her own store, and before that was a butcher for two years in north London. “It is a surprisingly artistic thing, actually,” she says, “displaying hunks of meat in an attractive way.”
Meghan has had 16 years to hone the merchandise here at the Globe, and she admits its rather gothic bent may have roots in her own taste: “Customers like a skull, that’s for sure.” The more seemingly saleable plays have proved the opposite.
Early attempts at hearts-and-flowers inspired lines based on Romeo and Juliet went down badly. “We then tried anatomical hearts,” says Meghan, “which worked a bit. And now we’ve gone quite dark with the latest range, which is selling much better.”
A customer in Japan was recently asked by the police to take off one of our Globe T-shirts he was wearing. It was a “gruesome unisex” number, with a blood design dripping from the neckline and ‘Out damned spot! Out I say’ scrawled below, from Macbeth. (You can shop the full gruesome range here).
Customers also call for sustainability as well as blood. Our online customers receive products in packaging reused from incoming stock, and we even set dress our onsite Globe Shop with items made from recycled theatre props or scenery that would have gone to landfill.
Meghan’s enthusiastic and creative team have even made “papier mâché wonders” as Christmas decorations for our Shop from copies of the Evening Standard, after testing the process on hanging strawberries and skulls themed around Othello and Hamlet in 2018.
In a recent blog, Gaynor Humphrey, Director of the knitted toy company Best Years, who recently cut down on plastic wrapping due to external demand, wrote that “As a museum [read: heritage or culture venue] you have the ability to influence many of your suppliers, especially the ones that mainly supply into tourist destinations.” Meghan does feel a shift has occurred, and that now, “my main suppliers have got the message. They are now looking actively for the best alternatives”.
A big challenge she still faces, however, is entrenched consumer expectations. “There are people who come in and buy 20 pencils and want 20 paper bags for them because they’re gifts. It’s very hard when they’re customers, we can’t really say no. Or maybe we can?”