The Power of Paper: Greener Visual Merchandising

Developing a Corporate Social Responsibility plan might seem like a tall order for many independent retailers. But CSR is not just for the big boys in business, and can help even the smallest of businesses become more environmentally and financially sustainable. Visual Merchandising is the perfect area of business for retailers of all sizes to start streamlining, because displays are rarely used twice. Creating new props, set pieces and baffles from plastic or foamex every season is becoming increasingly irresponsible, and is certainly not cost-effective for smaller stores.

Committing to reducing the use of disposable plastic is just one step that all businesses should now be taking to reduce their carbon footprint. Fortunately there are plenty of sustainable alternatives to plastic for making impressive window spectacles.

Paper is the single most virtuous of materials for making window displays. The ultimate renewable resource, paper is incredibly versatile and available in myriad different textures, patterns and finishes. You can paint it. You can punch holes in it. From the simplest bunting to complex origami, the possibilities for design with paper are literally endless. 

Paper can also be very cheap or even free to source. Reusing and repurposing old magazines, newspapers, maps, music sheets and so on will always win extra ‘green’ points, as will using recycled paper. These types of paper will not suit every brand or window story of course, so the next best place to find paper is your local scrap store. They may have larger scale off cuts or end of line rolls of different papers for you to fashion into decorative displays without leaving a big environmental footprint.

The easiest way to use paper to make a design statement is to cut out simple shapes from a template and suspend them in the windows, ideally using clear nylon thread. Inaccurately or roughly cut shapes will instantly look unprofessional of course, so take care or delegate to someone with patience. With this kind of display more is usually more, so make plenty. 

To tap into the sculptural potential of paper you can experiment with folding, fringing, curving and curling - simply run the edge or a ruler or scissor blade along a strip of paper like a florist curling ribbon. Secure shapes with staples, staple pliers, double sided tape, sticky pads, or glue. Play with light and shadow by punching or cutting holes or other shapes to the paper, adding a further layer or detail to your display.

Construct larger shapes or even set pieces using boxes or rolled-up wadges of corrugated card (sourced from your own empty delivery boxes of course). Cover with paper maché which is, in case it has been a long time since you did this at primary school, simply a mixture of paper and glue that applied to cardboard shapes to make a hard surface. You can texture it too by adding sand, rice, lentils or textiles depending on what you are trying to achieve. For a smoother finish, layer it up neatly, and lacquer it with water-based acrylic varnish for a glossy effect. 

If you still need convincing that paper is better for your windows than plastic there is plenty of inspiration to be found on my Pinterest Board.