Merchandising: New life for old materials

Reclaimed, repurposed and recycled materials are hot trends in visual merchandising today and the creativity keeps growing. SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright explains how recycled wood can convey many other messages beyond a just a rustic barn.
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Reclaimed, repurposed and recycled materials are hot trends in visual merchandising today and the creativity keeps growing.

Once upon a time, giving old wood new life was synonymous with the flavor of a rustic barn. But today, endless themes and messages can be exhibited with old materials to reflect industrial, coastal and beach themes as well as contemporary or Dwell Magazine-type design.

Recycled materials can add warmth, personality and visual texture and add voice to a brand story. Despite the differences in use, one thread appears constant: The desire to find soul in design.

Bricks from a factory in New Hampshire, wood from Vermont and metal repurposed from a previous Timberland booth.

Outdoor Retailer booths like Timberland, United by Blue, Life is Good or Danner Lacrosse all had booths born of the past but with distinct brand personality. The same is true in retail. How do these distinctly different brands and retailers use recycled materials, but maintain such recognizable individuality?

Leather dies find new life as a footwear mountain fixture for Danner.

According to Wisconsin-based Urban Evolutions, which sources an array of reclaimed building materials, many clients communicate their needs by explaining the personality of their brand. Story, color, texture and material are all discussed and then the hunt for the appropriate materials begins. Sometimes the supplier already has something inside their 50,000-square-foot warehouse that is an immediate no-brainer, like the wood with metal embedded in it that was a perfect match for retailer Harley Davidson.

Because of the individuality of wood, slate and brick, Urban Evolutions’ owner’s Robin and Jeff Janson believe it is best for them to be involved in the initial design process rather than later due to the dictating personality reclaimed materials has.

The different personalities of wood.

Urban Evolutions was the reclaimed wood source for London’s Anthropologie, and Salt Lake City’s No Boundaries, but that is where the resemblance ends. Each store has a distinctly different personality.

London Anthropologie

Salt Lake City No Boundaries

Materials that can be given new life both in structure and as visual merchandising props can be found in old factories, schools, fences, whiskey barrels, even scarps of fabric as seen on the walls of the booth of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market’s Best of Booth winner, Prana. Vision and inspiration determine the future use of what could be considered one man’s garbage into another’s creative tool.

Scraps of fabric wound into balls become props that add colorful splashes of color while framing collections.


When done well, these old materials create a finished product that reads like a piece of original and organic art. With the wise brick and mortar retailer aiming to provide an experience, these materials add a personality that can make shopping become less like a hurried errand and more like a lengthy visit with an old friend we look forward to visiting.

Add a cup of coffee and we might never leave.

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright

is the founder of Merchandising Matters,

which provides merchandising support to brands, retailers and their agencies.

Reach her via email at

with questions, ideas and suggestions.




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