Look around at any big event and it is obvious that many people feel open, comfortable, and even empowered as choosy consumers in busy vending areas. At the core of that activity is a personal exchange, and that means pop-up retail is full of potential for science engagement. Could the joyful moment when a shopper finds an item just right for them (or a loved one) also double as a science engagement experience? As with all situated engagement, realizing the potential of this category requires rethinking outreach. And it is worth it. Hear why from the teams and observers involved in two Science In Vivo sites: Startorialist at the Grand Bazaar, and the Science Boutique. Startorialist set up a retail stall at the Grand Bazaar, an open-air market on NYC’s Upper West Side. Science Boutique set up a retail stall at downtown Boston’s Greenway Open Market. The audio highlights here are from final critiques in 2019 and a group category conversation in 2021.
Several years ago a small team of astrophysicists presented a conference research poster detailing how a few science-themed fashion accessories could effectively communicate science. The merchandise generated such interest that the team soon found themselves setting up shop as a vendor at scientific conferences to sell science-inspired clothing and fashion accessories under the banner of “Startorialist.” In 2019 Startorialist took its first foray into a public market by securing a booth at the Grand Bazaar on New York City’s Upper West Side. In addition to market success (connecting customers to the brand and turning a profit), the goal was to explore how retail interactions could lead to science engagement experiences.
For Charity Southworth, the Science Boutique is the right blend of artistic expression, science inspiration, and public interaction. Most of the Science Boutique’s science-themed merchandise is hand crafted by Charity, and she enjoys selling these items directly at vending booths in public markets. For years her business has been both profitable and personally fulfilling, and she hopes that the Science Boutique serves as a unique way to engage the public in science as well. In 2019, the Science Boutique set up shop at Boston’s Greenway Market, and Charity invited a friend (and science educator) along to try using the retail interactions as entry points to science engagement conversations.