For Bands Seeking Sustainability, Merchandise Is the Next Frontier

It's challenging for a number of reasons

How does one keep merchandise (environmentally) in line?
Parker Burchfield/Unsplash

Before the pandemic wreaked havoc on musicians’ ability to go out on tour, there was a lot of discussion of how they might do so in an environmentally friendly and even carbon-neutral way. Perhaps the highest-profile example of this was Coldplay’s decision to take a break from touring until they were able to find a more ecologically-minded approach.

With touring still fraught, streaming paying relatively low royalties and delays at record pressing plants, that’s made artist merchandise one of the few reliable sources of income for some artists. But even that can have its unpleasant aspects — and whether an artist is playing arenas or basements, a growing coterie of bands is concerned with the environmental impact of the merchandise that they make.

Writing at Pitchfork, Quinn Moreland offered a deep dive into the issues facing bands looking for more sustainable merchandise. There are few easy answers here — Moreland spoke with the founder of printing company Night Owls, who mentioned that shirts can cost anywhere from $5 to $25, depending on the materials used. Unfortunately, the ones made from recycled materials come out on the high end of that — which could be prohibitively expensive for many concertgoers.

One of the most interesting solutions is allowing fans a way to put new logos on existing shirts — an approach, the article notes, which has been taken by punk collective Bomb the Music Industry! and rock band The 1975 alike. But just as the artists discussed are making music on very different scales, so too are questions of cost and sustainability playing out differently for different artists. There are few easy answers here — but Moreland’s article offers a good overview of some of the emerging approaches to the issue.

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