Material Matters: Three sustainable materials that will transform retail

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By Published On: October 27, 20230 Comments

Materials bear an enormous weight in the crafting of our lives, The Material Matters exhibition ponders how we can approach retail spaces more sustainably and critically. 

The Material Matters exhibition, in partnership with BETA By STH BNK’s in-residence program Atelier and Craft Victoria saw exhibitors across architecture, craft and product design create innovative displays that delve deep into our material culture, offering a contemplative reflection on the substrates that form the foundation of the world around us, and the future ahead of us.

The Material Matters exhibition conveys an important narrative around the need for brick-and-mortar retail environments to move from simply transactional to experiential; common areas and retail spaces.

Material Matters Curator and co-founder of Cordon Salon Ella Saddington, said the exhibition urges visitors to ponder ‘Why materials matter?’, ultimately asking them to recognise the extraordinary weight materials bear in the conscious crafting of our lives.

“It is all too easy to overlook the bedrock of our everyday experiences: the materials that constitute our lived reality,” said Saddington. “Further, retail needs to evolve at a much slower pace and I hope there are more personalised experiences and tastes from both ends of the scale (retailer vs. consumers) that will see us move toward a more sustainable way of living.”

With a huge range of sustainable material solutions on offer at the exhibition, we’ve compiled just three of the many exhibitor materials on display that retailers should keep in mind as they develop sustainable solutions in retail development going into 2024 and beyond. 


One of Australia’s most awarded sustainable architecture practice, Melbourne based studio Breathe has developed a kit of modular parts that will change retail fit outs for the better. Retail fit outs require a huge amount of materials and labour that gets sent to landfill at the end of a lease or as a store branding changes. Breathe has imagined a future where everything is valued. They have developed a simple kit of modular parts that can come together on site, like Lego pieces. Materials are natural, honest, biodegradable or recyclable. It’s installation not construction.

Current, Breathe is working with ASB Branches across Australia, using their modular kits to transform their branches with unique designs.

The design is about doing a lot with a little. It’s simple, and elegant, adapted easily with a system that can be replicated and scaled. Importantly, at the end of a lease, an entire branch can be easily disassembled and taken to a new site.

Bioplastics – OTHER MATTER

A finalist for The City of Melbourne’s 2023 Lord Mayor’s Small Business Innovation Award, Artist Jessie French’s Other Matter studio has bought to life a vision of a world without dependency on petrochemical plastics. Other Matter’s algae-based bioplastics take over the role of plastic and vinyl decals. From window stickers to furniture finishes, these bioplastics can be applied throughout a store in a variety of ways. Sustainably grown and sources, algae-based bioplastics can be reused and reimagined to transform spaces. Different varieties of seaweed can produce different colours and finishes, all fully recyclable. The PVC we currently use in regular decals has grave environmental consequences and serious health risks, this alternative not only offers an environmentally friendly alternative, but a health friendly one too. 


Industrial hemp fibre cultivation dates back to the beginning of recorded history with its use as a building material dating back 300 years. Hempanel is working towards building a better future in sustainable Australian housing solutions by using the plant’s fibre in construction. Inspired by environmentally friendly products and technically sound practice Hempanel came to light as Australia”s Structurally Insulated Panel (SIPs) System.Essentially carbon negative, self curing, insulating, and fire resistant, the team at Hempanel have used their 35 years of experience in the construction industry to develop pre-made hemp panels for construction purposes. 

Fully recyclable, these panels can be grown with a third of the water required by cotton crops, maturing in just 100 days, and act as a carbon sequester, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it throughout its lifespan even in the form of cured panels. 

Australia’s regulatory rules around hemp cultivation may not allow for a wider application of the material in construction at this point in time, but the team at Hempanel are hopeful that in time this material will become the norm in sustainable building solutions in the future. 

Find out more about Material Matters and its exhibitors here:

The exhibition is open for private bookings until November 30, which you can arrange here.  

About the Author: Rosalea Catterson

Rosalea is the Editor of Power Retail. With a keen interest in consumer behaviour and tech, she covers everything ecommerce and hosts the Power Retail Power Talks Podcast.

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