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The Empty Shop for OXFAM by Alain Gilles, Belgium

For one month, from 17th October until 16th November, Oxfam is opening a pop-up shop on rue Antoine Dansaert in Brussels (Belgium) following the logic of the “Empty Shop”.

Designed by Alain Gilles

The idea of an “Empty Shop” is that they open without any items for sale and are filled up little by little by donations. These donations are then sold by Oxfam to generate income which allows them to finance social projects all over the world. Stock is therefore replenished every day.

In this case, with the shop being situated on “the” designer road in Brussels, donations come predominantly from renowned Belgian designers and stylists, but also from top-of-the-range international brands. This gives big-name brands the possibility to get rid of older stock whilst taking part in a circular economy. Naturally, individuals are just as welcome to donate high-quality second-hand clothing originating from leading designers and brands.

The concept of the exhibition space design, called “La fabbrica del valore”, involves highlighting the creation of value which occurs through the collecting and sorting of clothing, furniture and trinkets by Oxfam in Belgium. The goal is of course to also profit from the presence of this pop-up shop in the prestigious rue Antoine Dansaert in Brussels and the support of leading stylists and top-of-the-range fashion brands to engage, tempt and to make people take a fresh look at Oxfam and their second-hand shops.

This exhibition space design is, for the most part, created using products or items collected from different Oxfam sorting stores and stocks in Belgium and aims to highlight the daily work of the staff by enhancing and dramatising many of their work tools.

The central element is a sort of funnel machine symbolising the collecting and sorting of garments to find “gems”, among other things. Rare articles donated by those who no longer need them and which are of great value in the eyes of another, either because they simply must have it, or because with time, the item has become more unique, and therefore more desirable.

The top of the funnel is represented by an abundance of plants. They represent the richness and diversity of the harvest, but equally the environmental aspect of recycling and sorting. The structure of this large sculptural machine is comprised of storage racks originating from warehouses and therefore highlights one of the key work phases of Oxfam and its staff.

This “added-value machine” ends with a sort of suspended ribbon which induces a circular-shaped movement and gives the impression of having created unique pieces, like a factory that generates value through its industry and the employees' efforts. This large ribbon will highlight many of the pieces donated by individuals and stylists throughout the duration of the event.

Aside from this valu-generating machine, the pop-up shop contains various other key features. At the entrance, a receiving station where one can welcome generous donors and unpack donated goods onto a retrieval desk, fitted with a task light to better view the garments once they have been unpacked and consequently value the donation and the donor.

On the upper level of the pop-up shop, an installation symbolising a fashion show runway is positioned in the centre of the room and showcases many of the objects used daily by Oxfam when sorting and storing items. A sort of new sculptural entity is created and shows these pieces in a new light.

Various racks and small trolleys recycled from the Oxfam stores enable the garments to be displayed, whether that be by suspending them from a hanger or presenting them folded. Different sized cardboard boxes allow display spaces to be adjusted to accommodate donated items.

With a view to showing how buying second-hand can yield “gems”, pieces that are rare or have become even rarer, but also that the world of fashion has rallied around the event, the entire feature is adorned with a golden finish, a nod to a certain type of advertising and presentation in the world of luxury goods.

This gold finish also enables one to identify the added scenography in the “empty shop”, so that it stands out from pre-existing architectural features.

The support of leading designers, but equally the desire to feature the original and somewhat exclusive aspect of certain second hand pieces, both encouraged us to put a new twist on the brand identity of exclusive luxury brands in favour of Oxfam by playing with their logo on the glass façade of the shop.

With respect to the name given to the exhibition space design, “La fabbrica del valore”, it is in Italian to evoke a certain vision of the world of fashion. It also makes reference, by playing on the name “La fabbrica del vapore”, to an exhibition space in Milan well known to fashionistas and design enthusiasts.

Surprise everyone by telling the story of the recovery and transformation of collected donations. All by using a maximum of existing products and raw materials to produce an exhibition space design.

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