Fashionable fish

Anyone who believes the sustainable seafood movement has been demonstrating a distinct lack of showmanship may be surprised to learn that next month it makes its first foray into the world of high fashion through the launch of “Project Ocean,” Selfridges & Co.’s new multi-level awareness program.

To deliver this campaign, designed to give the UK superstore’s 30,000 daily customers a better understanding of the complexities of sustainability, it’s teamed up with environmental organizations including the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Greenpeace.  

The project is officially billed as “both a celebration of the oceans and a forum for conservationists to issue an urgent public wake-up call to address issues of sustainability, overfishing and marine protection.” And Selfridges’ Liz Lock told SeafoodSource such a grand-scale campaign has never been attempted in a luxury store before.  

Jonathan Baille, co-creator of Project Ocean and director of ZSL, said it “signals the biggest-ever retail activism campaign designed to ‘sell’ and engage public mindsets on overfishing.”

Launching 11 May and running through 12 June, events in Selfridges’ Oxford Street store’s “Ultralounge,” include guest appearances from fashion designers, restaurateurs, fishermen and campaigners. There will be a video and audio installation by artist Beth Derbyshire called “The Seven Seas,” as well as the “Dive Bar,” a destination for the Friday after-work crowd with music sessions and poetry readings.

In addition, the store’s windows will be transformed into a fashion aquarium with an exhibition that includes an Atlantic-inspired collection from the late Alexander McQueen’s label.  

Meanwhile, Selfridges’ commitments include GBP 50,000 (EUR 56,600, USD 81,825) to create and manage a marine reserve on a unique double barrier reef in the Philippines as part of ZSL’s wider chain of protected reefs. And it promises all fish sold in its food halls and restaurants will now only come from sustainable sources.

It’s also producing a free “Fish Guide” booklet for its customers to identify what fish to eat and what to avoid, which is factually based upon the MCS’ own, more comprehensive list, available at There will, however, be a more detailed phone app that will include recipes from participating chefs and a sustainability-based restaurant guide compiled by Fish 2 Fork.
The eco-engaged will be further buoyed to learn that, as part of Project Ocean, Hix Restaurant & Champagne Bar at Selfridges will be hosting a special Sustainable Fish Supper on 25 May. Here at the GBP 60 (EUR 68, USD 98) per person event, leading chefs Mitch Tonks, Valentine Warner and, of course, Mark Hix — three excellent advocates of the UK seafood industry — will cook up an exclusive fish menu while delivering invaluable advice on sourcing and sustainability.

“One message I’m going to be giving people is that they should be eating fish with confidence. Also, that they shouldn’t be looking for the next new species because there isn’t a next new species out there. It’s all about balance and understanding,” said Tonks. “Eat some frozen fish, eat some fresh fish, eat some gurnard, turbot and brill — just make sure it’s fished in a responsible area. We don’t have any fisheries in the U.K. that are totally overexploited, they’re all pretty well managed.”

The chef, restaurateur and food writer also maintains that to enjoy a varied, sustainable seafood diet, consumers must look beyond the chilled counter at supermarkets; they should be open to fish not exclusively from British waters as well as frozen products, which have been, to some degree, prejudiced against in the past.  

Talks and t-shirts

In terms of reaching and fostering messages of sustainability and responsible fish buying with new, younger demographics, Project Ocean could prove to be a truly inspired event — Selfridges is an iconic store, renowned internationally for being at the cutting edge of British trends and fashion. For those unfamiliar with its heritage, think Harrods but more accessible and less stuffy.  
The five-week program will culminate on 8 June with the United Nations-recognized GLOBE World Ocean’s Day summit. Held for the first time in a public location (the Ultralounge), GLOBE 2011 will provide a forum for heads of state, rule-makers, NGOs and activist organizations to discuss marine issues, such as the much-maligned Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).   

Selfridges points out the whole Project Ocean campaign will be conducted in its “own unique way,” with “plenty of color, theatre and a twist of humor.” Part of this will inevitably come from the involvement of British designer Katherine Hamnett, queen of the slogan t-shirt (“Choose life,” etc.), who has created a collection of clothes, towels and tote bags for the store's campaign.
Hamnett’s poster child t-shirt has the slogan “No more fish in the sea?” With a GBP 49 (EUR 55, USD 80) price tag, this garment is certain to appear in countless magazines dedicated to the fashion industry in the coming weeks, and bring further attention to the sustainability concept, which continues to gather momentum in U.K. society.

Just last week a new opinion poll, commissioned by WWF, revealed 79 percent of U.K. consumers want the fish that is on sale to come from sustainable, not overfished, sources. This came at the same time that retailer Morrisons announced it was following the lead of Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Asda, by promising to purchase tinned tuna caught using pole-and-line methods by 2014.

There could be no clearer indication the eco message has got through and consumers, like industry, are now engaged.


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