The Reimaginarium

The social enterprise on a mission to make reclaimed goods mainstream

QUICK FACTS:

  • The average Australian household disposes approximately 24 kilograms of wooden furniture per year

  • Approximately 4 tonnes of furniture, appliances, blankets, cutlery and bottles have been diverted from landfill through The Reimaginarium in the last three years

  • Approximately 200 obsolete radios alone have been saved from disposal in that time

The Reimaginarium takes used items and transforms them into unique, beautiful and durable 'new' products. The reuse hub is the brainchild of frustrated designer and engineer Ryan Mischkulnig who, fed up with the waste associated with the production of new goods, set out to find a better way.  

Ryan's first repurposing breakthrough was retrofitting Bluetooth capabilities into vintage radios. Through this design, he found a new use for old radios and developed one-of-a-kind products chock full of character and charm. These speakers are now sold through The Reimaginarium alongside upcycled products from re-makers across the country.  

The Reimaginarium retail space was set up in 2018 with assistance from Renew Geelong — a non-for-profit funded by Creative Victoria and the City of Geelong that finds creative uses for vacant spaces in the city. After an overwhelming response from the local community, Ryan is now planning to expand into a bigger space that will house a store, a workshop/teaching space for repair and reuse and a warehouse for redistribution of unwanted goods to makers who can use them.  

Below, he shares his hopes for the project and learnings for others wanting to set up their own reuse initiatives.  

WHO  

"With the Reimaginarium, I want to prove that second-hand doesn't have to be second best. I want to show that many repaired, restored, repurposed and reimagined goods are just as functional and desirable as new ones, they're just not as accessible or visible to most people. 

The role of The Reimaginarium is twofold. We support Australian makers of reclaimed goods by providing a curated retail space dedicated to their work. In doing so, we make purchasing reclaimed far more accessible to the general public, as we are centrally located and our curation and brand reputation guarantees a degree of quality, functionality and durability. At present we do this through a dedicated retail space in Geelong, Victoria, which utilises careful curation and good retail principles to make reclaimed goods far more accessible than they are in other settings."

VISION   

"I've always had a passion for reuse — for seeing opportunity and potential in things others discard. As a designer and engineer, the complete lack of consideration for reuse and sustainability disappointed me, both in my training and from design clients once I began working in the industry. I left the industry to prove that, with the right care and skillset, it was viable to develop quality, functional, affordable products, without utilising solely new materials. Our Vintage Bluetooth Speakers, made from discarded radios, became our proof of concept. I quickly discovered that there were not really any retail opportunities for reclaimed — as opposed to as-found secondhand or high-end antique — goods, that could accurately present the benefits of such items. As a result, and with the assistance at the time of Renew Geelong, The Reimaginarium was born. 

From a circular economy perspective, our core aim is to minimise the number of new materials that enter our economy in the form of consumer goods. If we can make repaired, repurposed, or reclaimed goods just as desirable, functional and accessible as new ones, then we eliminate the perceived barrier of having to make sacrifices to shop circular goods."

We want to keep as many existing goods and materials in circulation as possible, and in doing so, reduce the need for new materials to be added to our economy. Unlike the recycling industry, we are focused not only on the raw materials, but in maintaining the embedded energy of goods by capturing and reusing them before they require recycling. 

HOW  

"We have been talking about fossil fuels, about recycling, about waste, since before I was born and there is a strong awareness of these issues, but awareness on its own does not guarantee action. In fact, awareness without a method of action that is considered socially acceptable can lead to inaction. At The Reimaginarium, we wanted to take a different approach. We thought rather than demanding changes in people's behaviour, we would change their opportunities. We wanted to provide a service that makes reuse just as convenient as purchasing new. To see if we could get to the point where customers are purchasing our goods unaware of the environmental benefits, rather than because of them. This is not a common approach, but we are confident it is the approach with the greatest potential for impact.  

We are still working towards making purchasing renewed as convenient and attractive as purchasing new, but already in our Geelong retail store we are seeing the impacts of the moves we have made in this direction. By carefully curating our store so that every reclaimed good that we offer provides the same functionality as a similarly priced new piece, providing a clean, accessible shop layout and ensuring our staff are knowledgeable about our product, we have opened a lot of eyes to reclaimed goods. Our methodology has built instinctual trust from customers in the goods that we offer, our location in central Geelong has provided accessibility and we have become a facilitator for a far greater range of methods of reuse than we had initially imagined. In store right now we have items made from furniture, musical instruments, floorboards, car parts, cutlery, sea glass, old radios, curtains, sheets, blankets, bottles, tablecloths and more." 

Barriers to change: 

"Our biggest barrier so far has been government acceptance of the value of reuse and repair in the circular economy. We have found that, while governments are keen to reduce waste and improve their circularity, they still look at circularity as recycling. Because of this, funding and opportunities provided at all levels of government seem to focus on recycling, unintentionally undermining or ignoring more circular possibilities.  

Since the recycling industry is so well established, we also perceive that governments find it easier to fund large-scale established recyclers to improve their processes and throughput, rather than supporting the much smaller and more diverse re-users and repairers, even though they are potentially a more circular and sustainable solution. Communicating with stakeholders such as government about the value and opportunities that lie in supporting and growing the reuse industry, so that it can become as large and efficient as the recycling industry, has been our biggest challenge to date."

Advice for other businesses:  

"With the right skillset, and a solid understanding of your customer's needs, any business can become more circular without sacrificing customers or profits. An idea or process that has not been done before in your industry is not automatically a bad one, it may just not have been explored, and if you have the team to make it work, and it will work for your customers, go for it. With so many businesses competing purely on perception or price, the circular economy can be a great opportunity for true differentiation."

RESULTS + BENEFITS 

"We currently track our results based on the weight of goods that we sell or repair in tonnes per year. Given that every piece sold through The Reimaginarium is made primarily from salvaged materials, every item sold avoids one ending up in landfill and negates the need for an all new one to be made. As a result, we have a circularity impact at both ends of the product lifecycle — keeping materials out of landfill and reducing the number of new materials entering the product stream. 

We have had a really positive response from the community to our circular economy concept. Not only have people been willing to purchase goods from us that will last them decades that are reclaimed rather than new, but we have had a huge number of people approach us to reuse goods that they already have; items which may have been sitting in their sheds and cupboards for years or even decades to avoid disposal."

Call To Action

"For a century reuse has been getting harder and harder to justify. Automation has continually made the production of new goods more cost effective, often making purchasing new more economical than repairing what you have. As that balance has tipped, traditional repairers have closed, reducing accessibility and skewing the landscape ever further towards new goods. Manufacturing of new products has become ever more automated and efficient, while repair and reuse have remained manual jobs. As wages grow, and the efficiency of automation improves, labour-intensive tasks such as traditional repair become ever less cost effective.  

It doesn't need to be this way though. By learning from efficiencies of mass production, and incorporating them where possible into reuse, we can start to make reuse viable again. As international transport becomes more costly, and as we become more aware of and begin to factor the environmental costs of new goods into their pricing, there will be a big opportunity for reuse, repair and reimagination to become a large and vital part of our economy and our circular economy again."

Head here to learn more about The Reimaginarium.  

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