High-quality mannequins have always been a major attraction at EuroShop. At the upcoming Feb. 16–20, 2020, show at the fairgrounds in Düsseldorf, Germany, mannequins will be evaluated under a new aspect: sustainability. Existing approaches include mannequins made of sustainable, recyclable raw materials and the renovation of disused, old mannequins. Not yet popular are options such as relocating production, improving transport efficiency, and extending the lifespan of the mannequins.
Mannequins were made of wax or paper mâché until the 1950s, and since then, most have been made of glass-fiber reinforced polyester impregnated with resin (GFRP). Many are mass produced in the Far East and designed and finished in Europe. Since it does not present known health risks, hardened GFRP is not classified as special waste, but it biodegrades slowly. However, the use of resin and glass fiber requires a meticulous manufacturing process. Improper handling, insufficient exhaust systems, or inappropriate filters at the production sites can cause health problems and add to greenhouse gas emissions.
Alternatively, mannequins can be made of polypropylene (PP). Polypropylene does not contain plasticizers that are considered a health concern, but its production also requires chemicals. Mannequins made of PP are less expensive, but their stiffness and degree of detail is inferior to those made of GFRP. Both plastics are recyclable, so used mannequins should not end up in a landfill. Plastics do not decompose like organic substances into compost, but remain intact as plastic waste for many decades if disposed of improperly.
In addition to experimenting with more sustainable materials, some manufacturers take back mannequins to properly dispose of them. Others will refurbish used mannequins so that they can be reintroduced into the marketplace.
At least one German supplier has concrete plans for manufacturing mannequins in Germany to avoid high-emission transportation from the Far East. But retailers are not yet willing to pay for such sustainably produced mannequins.
One issue for recyclability is the need for products to be designed for disassembly. Individual components must be able to be separated cleanly at the end of their lifecycle. To address this need, at least one manufacturer is producing mannequins made of glass fiber and organic resin with a water-based surface coating instead of varnishing.
The industry is also considering the energy ramifications of recycling. Critics believe recycling emits substantial amounts of greenhouse gasses.
But all manufacturers agree that there is a lack of clear legislation obliging producers to provide comparable information on the entire value chain. A comprehensive eco footprint assessment of the reuse and renovation of display mannequins is likely to be as complex and challenging as the evaluation of production and recycling processes.
Visual merchandising coach Karin Wahl believes mannequins are indispensable in fashion retail: “Only on the mannequin can you see how the clothes fall.” Mannequins therefore have a firm place in retail, and manufacturers’ efforts to come up with sustainable production solutions are evident. They follow different approaches. Due to framework challenges such as the lack of legislation, however, it is currently not possible to present simple and comprehensive solutions on the subject of sustainability.
EuroShop 2020 will present innovations on about 1.3 million sq. ft. of net exhibition space. Entrance passes can be purchased online at www.euroshop-tradefair.com at reduced rates.