Shipping containers may not sound like the most exotic, exciting subject on the planet.

If you've never seen a boutique created in a container, you might associate them mostly with dusty transport and perhaps a bit of rust. From pop-up stores to portables, why are shipping containers gathering steam as an alternative building option? 


Made of hearty material, usually steel, shipping containers are strong structures designed to withstand the elements. They're also modular, making them stackable, and have dimensions primed for transport. Those features alone give them potential as a convenient, effective way to set up shop.

As such, some people are drawn to the container option as an affordable, fast way to gain a foothold in a particular location. For instance, Brooklyn-based Carlos-Ameen Jureidini-Cully told Entrepreneur in 2012 that creating a retail shop in a shipping container empowered him to control how his products were presented without paying extremely high rent.  

Similarly, local business owners in Christchurch, New Zealand, decided to band together after the massive earthquakes crippled much of the city in 2011. Having lost their retail spaces, they collaborated to create the Re:Start Mall – a shopping centre comprising an assortment of boutiques in shipping containers. Some stores used a single container, whereas others built a larger structure out of several units. 

But it's not just the practical elements that make shipping containers increasingly popular for businesses – they're also trendy and intriguing.

…and art 

As the Re:Start Mall in Christchurch, Brooklyn's Dekalb Market and other shipping container centres demonstrate, designers can get creative with the options – and customers appreciate the artiness. 

Perhaps it's the temporary look and feel that make them seem special to people, or the pure ingenuity that attracts visitors to a unique display. Either way, colours, positioning and other design elements contribute to a remarkable transformation that expresses the unique brand identity of the business.

While some companies establish semi-permanent locations in shipping container malls, others use the strategy to create a fascinating experience for consumers as they take to the road

Proj-X, for example, created a mobile showroom out of a shipping container for Sunbeam, complete with the company's logo. Full timber decking, display benches, outdoor heating and audio visual elements all contributed to the impressive experience offered by the container – which also remained portable so Sunbeam could use it for roadshows at multiple iconic sites. 

With such versatility and possibility, shipping container stores could be here to stay – as they seem to be in Christchurch. Not only is the Re:Start Mall an attractive place for the community to gather, it has also become an important part of the city's story. As businesses overcome challenges brought by the earthquake, these shipping container boutiques epitomise the city's innovative, tenacious will to thrive.