Subscribe Login

Retail Safari: A Guided Tour Of Dublin’s Top Sustainable Shops

By Maev Martin
Retail Safari: A Guided Tour Of Dublin’s Top Sustainable Shops

Retail and shopper specialist Sharon Yourell Lawlor of Think Plan Do Consulting and sustainability strategist Pat Kane, founder of sustainable brand Reuzi, hosted Ireland’s first sustainable shopper safari in Dublin city centre last month. Maev Martin reports

Before we set out on our sustainable shopper safari, Sharon highlighted eight sustainable retail trends that she wanted us to look out for – story telling to aid shopper understanding; giving shoppers transparency; supporting right choices; digitally supporting sustainability; less is more; quality, care, and repair; supporting Irish and local; and people-focused retailing.

The latter includes ensuring diversity, equality, and inclusion within retail environments, utilising the retail store and your staff to support the wider community, and supporting more Irish businesses and brand owners.

Supporting Irish And Local

Kilkenny Design on Nassau Street was our first stop on the sustainable shopper safari.


Celebrating 60 years in business this year, the store promotes Ireland’s heritage, culture, and creative talent by offering products from a range of designers across fashion, homeware, jewellery, and personal care.

No less than 74% of the brands stocked in Kilkenny Design, both in store and online, are Irish and the business is aiming to grow this to 80% by the end of 2025.

This store ticked many of the eight sustainable retail trends boxes that Sharon had asked us to look out for on our safari, in particular its support for Irish designers and brands.

Ireland’s Eye knitwear brand, which is sold in Kilkenny Design, is 35 years in business.

Established by Jim O’Sullivan, the brand is retailed in over 20 countries and shipped to 60. Ireland’s Eye employs over 70 people in Baldoyle, Co Dublin, and several local families work in the business.


“We produce small batches and we knit to size as opposed to cutting to size which significantly reduces the waste produced by the company,” said Ireland’s Eye’s Nessa McKenna.

“We only use purified water, we recycle our steam, and we operate a passive room to manage heat.

"In addition, all boxes, paper, and plastic used by the business are fully recyclable.

"99% of our packaging is plastic-free and we donate waste packaging to Recreate Ireland where it is used in schools.”

Ticking the quality, care and repair box, Ireland’s Eye gives customers a card that explains how to care for their product and ensure that it lasts longer.


Also on sale in Kilkenny Design is Pat Kane’s Reuzi brand, which she describes as a “one-stop-shop for sustainably made, reusable goods.”

The brand now has a dedicated space in all eight Kilkenny Design stores.

She told us that her business supports over 250 businesses, 90% of which are Irish.

All packaging is sustainable, and they are also trying to offer an increasing number of compostable products.

“All packaging is reused, and we have partnered with some big brands to use their packaging to deliver our products, thus doing our bit for the circular economy,” she said.


“For example, we take boxes from Dundrum Shopping Centre and local businesses, and we reuse them for our deliveries – an example of community sustainable retailing.”

The sustainable shopper safari attendees used the visit to the Nassau Street store to check out the new Reuzi section and refill on shampoos and shower gels.

Less Is More - The Circular Economy

With the linear economy mindset that most of us have grown up with, we take materials from the earth, we make products from them, and eventually throw them away as ‘waste.’

With a circular economy approach, we can design out waste in a myriad of ways, including reducing, reusing, repairing, re-purposing, and recycling.

Two businesses that we visited on the sustainable shopper safari route showed how circular thinking can be translated into sustainable retailing.

Designer Exchange Ltd is an award-winning fashion boutique set up by Patrick Coughlan which buys and sells ‘pre-loved’ (or as many of us might say ‘used’) designer bags and accessories.

This was a hard store to leave empty handed!

The Designer Exchange began trading in 2012 and has been keeping used but high-quality products in circulation ever since.

“We do an Instagram live every Thursday – storytelling and showcasing the product – and we have almost 54,000 followers on Instagram,” said Patrick.

“While our core product is sustainable, we have also tried to introduce sustainable elements into our packaging and other areas of our operation, including ensuring that we aren’t using air conditioning all day.

"The customer profile was typically in the 35 to 48 age group, but we are now seeing an increasing number of 16- to 25- year-olds buying our products as they are very sustainability conscious.

"All products that we sell are sourced from private individuals, and some items come from agencies outside Ireland.

"We liaise with agencies that have the same business principles as ourselves.

"We also have partnerships with Brown Thomas and Arnotts. We are happy to see other businesses coming into our space.

"Our sector was the ugly duckling of the fashion industry for years and now we are at the forefront of the industry and big retailers have embraced the pre-loved concept.”

Located in George’s Street Arcade, Lou’s Lot is a retail business that sells vintage designer clothes and bags.

Lou sources items from designers such as Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana and she told us that ‘you can come in and buy a pair of vintage Levi’s for €50 or a designer item for €3,000.’

Both Patrick and Lou have grown their businesses by identifying a shopper need for ‘pre-loved’ items and realising that they can turn a sustainable retail solution into a commercial success.

With estimates that the global second-hand clothes market is expected to hit $350 billion by 2027, this is a clever move.

Storytelling To Aid Shopper Understanding

As we made our way to the beautiful Chupi display in the Westbury Mall, Chupi brand founder and CEO Chupi Sweetman told us that all her jewellery products are made in Ireland using only recycled gold and lab grown diamonds.

She uses 55,000 diamonds in her business and 80% of these are recycled.

Prior to establishing her business, Chupi worked in the fast fashion sector.

Her desire to not just set up her own business but to establish a business that operated sustainably began during her time with Top Shop in London where she was struck by the sparkly dresses for sale on Christmas Eve that had “been designed for landfill” as they vanished from the shelves on St Stephen’s Day.

Chupi aims to be zero waste and carbon neutral by 2030.

“We take a non-seasonal approach to designing our collections and deliberately keep them small to avoid overproduction and waste,” she said.

“Each precious Chupi piece is created with sustainability in mind.

"We work hard to source innovative, traceable, and sustainable materials, wherever possible, in our supply chain.”

Lab grown diamonds are made above ground instead of below ground but are identical visually and molecularly to mined diamonds.

Chupi told us that all their lab grown diamonds are fully traceable and carbon neutral.

“These types of diamonds are a fast-growing category,” she said.

“They are grown from a natural diamond seed and cutting-edge technology is used to replicate the earth’s crust.”

Chupi products are now sold to 70 countries and are disrupting the diamond industry worldwide.

She cited storytelling, heritage, and technology as the key the strengths of the Chupi brand.

Giving Shoppers Transparency

Shoppers are looking for transparency and retailers like outdoor clothing brand Patagonia are delivering.

‘We’re in business to save out home planet’ is the first thing you see when you enter the store, as it is writ large on their back wall.

Signposts are dotted around the store with words such as ‘human powered,’ ‘resilience’ and ‘simplicity,’ but perhaps the most striking words were those uttered by Patagonia’s Christian Volkmann who told us that “there are no activists anymore, we are all environmentalists.”

All fleeces sold in Patagonia stores are Fair Trade certified and the brand’s popular down sweater is now ‘warmer, softer, and more durable,’ with a shell made from 100% recycled fishing nets.

Volkmann told us that Patagonia sells fully organic natural fibres, some of which are grown regeneratively.

He said he wasn’t a fan of offsetting and that operating sustainably is about eliminating carbon in the first place.

Volkmann also told us that Patagonia is a B. Corp company and that 95% of the company’s emissions are in its supply chain.

Looking beyond the Patagonia business, he said that Dublin badly needed a district heating system, and that the city could be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050.

He urged retailers to find out about the impact of their business and referred them to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland as a good starting point.

During our visit to Planet Beauty at Brown Thomas, Diana Geraghty, head of sustainability for Brown Thomas Arnotts, talked about the three pillars of their sustainability strategy.

“The first of these is ‘believe’ – this is about inspiring customers and our staff to live sustainably and to understand our sustainability programme,” she said.

“We have a lot of sustainable products in store, and we have identified eight sustainability criteria that we follow – we want our customers to decide which of those is most important to them when they are purchasing in our stores.”

She was keen to point out that Brown Thomas is factual in its product descriptions and that this was a very important part of their operation and approach to sustainable retailing.

“In addition, we want all our brands to be transparent about their sustainability achievements, so we require third party certification from suppliers to back up their claims,” she said.

“Brown Thomas was the first retailer to sign up to the Science-Based Targets Initiative in 2020.

"However, for us to reach the scope 3 targets, we need our customers to live sustainably.”

The second part of their strategy is ‘transform,’ which is about constantly looking for more sustainable products.

“We have 6,500 SKUs and we want to grow our percentage of sustainable products,” she said.

The third part of their strategy is ‘act.’ “This involves working on the Science-Based Targets Initiative by minimising waste and looking to create efficiencies in the business,” she said.

“It is also about responsible sourcing – our top 200 brands represent 80% of our business.”

Brown Thomas’ Sustainable Edit is a curated collection of fashion, beauty, home, food, and Irish products that meet strict sustainability criteria.

Billed as ‘extraordinary style with a lighter footprint,’ Brown Thomas encourages shoppers to ‘look out for our Sustainable Edit Globe, which denotes products meeting our Sustainable Edit criteria.

The product description will state why a product is a more sustainable choice.’

Supporting Smart Choices

This is an interesting one and not something that most people readily associate with sustainability.

It is about guiding shoppers with in-store messaging that helps them to make the purchase decision that suits their needs, whether it is a shoe store that prints the question ‘has your little one been measured’ on a box showcasing a pair of runners or a bookstore that shares the ‘Staff Choice’ with shoppers to alert them to the latest books that might be of interest.

It might also be a perfume brand with an in-store display featuring little notes beside each fragrance advising the shopper of what occasions individual fragrances are best suited to, or a cacao brand that explains how its product can be used and some of the health benefits that come with consuming the product.

Digitally Supporting Sustainability

Brands and services are using digital to support sustainability by giving customers access to more information about sustainable initiatives and by helping them to make better buying decisions.

A good example of this is the QR code display in Bewley’s window on Grafton Street which customers to ‘Feel the Femenino Effect’ and find out more about their range of Fairtrade coffees made by female growers.

Augmented reality is proving to be very effective in the personal care space, guiding consumers to the latest trends and allowing them to try the latest looks virtually on their face.

Digital advances such as digital twinning – which allows you to replicate a real-world physical product, system, or process in the metaverse – are also supporting sustainability.

For example, with digital twinning, the digital representation serves as the digital counterpart of, for example, a new retail store for practical purposes such as simulation, integration, testing, monitoring, and maintenance.

If used to develop a new store design or layout, digital twinning can also reduce unnecessary mistakes, as well as reduce time, and improve stakeholder management.

Nourish Health Food Stores: Ticking All The Boxes

Nourish Health Food Stores opened back in the 1980s and their stores are all about choosing the most sustainable products, with clearly signposted sections such as Whole Foods, Healthy Snacks, Vitamins & Remedies, and Personal Care.

The stores have operated according to a strict sustainability roadmap from day one.

“We introduced the refill concept to our stores nearly 20 years ago with the Ecover brand and we have been doing it with the Lilly’s Eco Clean brand for 15 years,” said Lloyd Hewson, manager of the Wicklow Street branch.

“We stopped selling plastic water bottles in 2010, so we were ahead of our time in that respect.

"We introduced water fillers for staff in all our stores and we recently moved to closed door fridges, which has created energy efficiencies and hasn’t negatively impacted sales.

“We are a big supporter of small Irish brands, and we have our own skincare brand.

"Our packaging is sustainable, and we give 15 cent back on customer loyalty cards when they use their own bags. Our stores, warehouse, and HQ feature LED lighting.”

And as if all this wasn’t enough, Nourish Health Food Stores recycles the waste that it generates when implementing store refits.

Why Should Businesses Care?

Businesses should care for several reasons... Customers are demanding better, embedding sustainability in your business helps with talent attraction and retention, and it can uncover cost efficiencies.

It can also boost your brand reputation, drive innovation and, most importantly, prepare you to be compliant with legislation such as the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, as well as sustainable public procurement policies.

When it comes to uncovering cost efficiencies, there are three key areas to address – waste management, supply chain and clean energy sources.

A department-by-department audit of waste production can uncover habits and practices that are low-hanging fruit for improving your organisation’s carbon footprint.

Your business procurement and purchasing teams can play a big role in reducing carbon footprint by working with sustainable partners who produce items that can easily be recycled or refurbished.

When it comes to sourcing clean energy, this will start your journey to energy independence and allow autonomy over your costs.

The most important thing for retailers and consumers is to make a start, assess where they are and what they need to do, and then start trying to make a difference

© 2023 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Maev Martin. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.


Stay Connected With Our Weekly Newsletter

Processing your request...

Thanks! please check your email to confirm your subscription.