Why you should care

Because upcycled can be chic. And cheap.

Sometimes innovation sprouts from the dumpiest of places. Eskilstuna is a small but wide and green city about 60 miles outside of Stockholm. There’s nothing remarkable about it, really — except for ReTuna. A far-flung industrial building with a rust-colored facade, it’s a concept mall that only sells upcycled goods.

At ReTuna, you can find everything from fully restored vintage televisions and furniture to clothing. Apart from a few flea-market-grade knickknacks here and there, the quality is mostly meticulously Swedish. You can find, for example, a shabby-chic chest of drawers priced for less than a week’s worth of lattes, and a mountain bike that would otherwise eat two month’s salary. My $15 went to Ecoflor, an independent flower shop run by sisters Karin and Maria Larsson, for three repainted pots and a handful of tiny note cards.

The idea for the project took root when the city needed a creative solution to an overflowing recycling center. The result? A center that both recycles and upcycles goods, keeping them out of the landfill — an economic model that doesn’t devour every natural resource in sight to sustain itself, explains Mayor Jimmy Jansson. That was 10 years ago. A couple of elections and a slight economic downturn later, the mall celebrates its second anniversary this August. ReTuna spokesperson Sofia Bystedt says foot traffic has been great, with up to 700 people visiting its 10 tenant boutiques and three pop-up shops daily.

You have to dig for its unique hidden treasures.

While shopping at regular malls can feel robotic and predictable, ReTuna dishes up a more adventurous, human shopping experience. You have to dig for its unique hidden treasures. I was amazed at how fresh and modern the mall is; its industrial-chic aesthetic, avant-garde sculptural art, and bright and airy interiors could help remove the stigma associated with buying stuff that has been owned by someone else.

The community has been slow to embrace the idea of buying used stuff, says Christoffer Billefalt, a salesperson at ReBuyke, which sells bicycles and other outdoor recreational gear. “People in Japan know more about ReTuna than [locals] do,” he jokes. That said, ReTuna is trying to reshape public opinion, in part by hosting in-house exhibitions and conferences focused on sustainability.

“We want to demonstrate that we can make money, that this is how we’re going to live in the future,” says Bystedt, a new mom who is passionate about environmental issues. For now, a city-run startup fund pays for part of the rent to give tenants a leg up, but starting in January, all tenants will have to stand on their own. Considering the business model, there’s hope: Eskilstuna citizens donate goods they no longer need to a warehouse adjacent to the city’s second recycling center (a separate business), where they are sorted according to specific lists from each ReTuna store of desirable items and then shifted to a storage area. Some things are repurposed on-site, while others, like the bikes, are taken elsewhere for their rebirth. “We’re talking about the circular perspective, where you reuse resources we’ve taken out from the planet … instead of taking out more and more,” Jansson says. “And so far, it has been successful.”

It’s the human touch, I think, that makes this mall so special. Anyone can amble into a Bed Bath & Beyond to buy factory-made goods with no personality. But at ReTuna, everything has been repurposed by people who genuinely care about preserving the planet for future generations. That kind of consumerism, I can get behind.

Go There: ReTuna

  • Directions: There is a bus from Eskilstuna that stops outside ReTuna hourly during the week and every two hours on the weekend. According to Mayor Jansson, the municipality is looking to expand public transportation to the area. Map.
  • Pro Tip: To avoid feeling rushed, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to navigate the various stores. And grab a cup of coffee and a falafel sandwich at Café Returama, which dishes up only certified organic food and beverages.

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