Welcome to a monthly column within our broader sustainability section which focuses on what fashion is doing to address the issues in its industry brought to you by Retail Insider with Clipper and Give Back Box
Ask most people whether they might consider darning a hole in their favourite socks and the answer is probably a resounding no. Ask them whether they might consider re-heeling their favourite shoes and a higher proportion would probably answer yes. Ask them whether they might consider repairing their favourite luxury item and a very high proportion would likely answer absolutely but that service doesn’t exist. Does it?
Enter The Restory – seeking to bring lost atelier skills of reparation and restoration into the digital 21st century. We talked to Emily John, co-founder and head of marketing & business development at The Restory, about why repair could become all the rage.
The Restory was founded by Vanessa Jacobs, originally from the US, but settled in London. And like all good founding stories it has its roots in solving a problem that she herself faced. A cobbler wrecked a pair of her shoes and she was traumatised by the whole shoe mending experience – the unreliability of it, the limited scope of what anyone could do, and the frustration and inconvenience of the whole process.
So while appreciating that there are plenty of cobblers on the high street that can competently repair simple faults, she also recognised, helped by her investment banking background, that there was a gaping opportunity in the luxury sector for an aftercare service that is mainly non-existent.
She was first joined in the business by Brazilian co-founder Thais Cipolletta (now Head of Atelier) who arrived with a background in accessories and design. They spent eight months developing techniques of colour and material restoration – essentially reviving almost-lost skills. However, Jacobs also realised that time-poor clients were not about to trek down to a mending workshop several times over with their shoes so the whole process developed as seamlessly digital and accessible from the phone. At first Jacobs drove around herself picking up pairs of shoes and other items for repair and gauged first-hand the level of demand. And it was high.
As John notes “The most popular service is wear and tear. As a customer it is seen as your responsibility to deal with.” This is, of course, quite true. Try taking back a pair of shoes to any luxury brand and asking them for help with repairing worn, discoloured leather and the shrift given will likely be very short indeed although she is at pains to point out that this is not a negative comment on brands because although they have the manufacturing expertise repair is a completely different process.
And where brands may understandably only wish to maximise new sales volumes there is another argument that being able to offer a valued customer a service which allows them to keep a much-loved item rather than purchase a new one could over time work out very well in terms of customer retention and brand loyalty.
John claims that the company will always offer a solution to a client (different stages of repair are individually itemised on the price quote and the customer will choose which parts they wish to go ahead with) and that RD is therefore core to the company as it continue to refine its repairing techniques.
And here is where retailers can definitely join the party: earn themselves valuable CSR points for promoting re-use and nab that customer loyalty by partnering with services like The Restory and placing themselves between brand and consumer. In July The Restory launched its second major UK retail service at Selfridges in Manchester’s Trafford Centre. General Manager of Selfridges Trafford, Vicki Cain noted at the time that “With Selfridges’ continued focus on encouraging consumers to think sustainably… This will allow our customers to care for their favourite accessories long term, giving them a new lease of life months and years after they were first purchased.”
Interestingly John also points to the data received by The Restory as potentially very valuable to brands and retailers. “Our tech is collecting unique data which no one else has,” she claims, and adds: “The brand only has the point of sale information. We get detailed product data on where, how, when people’s bags, purses, shoes, boots, belts etc are actually used.”
One can easily imagine a scenario where manufacturers would like to know if the buttons keep falling off a product or if leather consistently tears in the same place or to realise that their consumers are not wearing the product in the place or in the way they assumed they were.
John says the company is in talks with several brands although it does represent a step change for them, more than for retailers where Harvey Nicks has been on board since last year. There is ongoing interest in The Restory and its offer from resale and renting sites too and resale is a growing market for the company. “Clients come to us with luxury items that have failed to sell on resale sites because there is a flaw. The bag is restored and then it sells.”
In fact, clients can be divided into several categories of which another is the heritage item keepers, for example she cites “many mothers bringing in their old Gucci bags to refresh and give to their daughters”.
But how does the service actually work? All advanced services are done in the atelier whereas for more basic repairs there is a trade partner on hand. At the moment there are 18 craftspeople working at The Restory and at this stage in the company’s journey a lot of investment is going into the team and what they are able to do.
In the Selfridge’s partnership the company has a display in the accessories department. The retail staff are trained to take the items, fill out the online form, automatically book the transport to London, and update the client on the whole process who will then receive a quote on the repair when the team has assessed the damage. The whole process is done digitally and at no transport cost to the consumer and will be done on demand within the UK and overnight internationally.
According to founder Vanessa Jacobs “Luxury is a promise and an investment. We believe that in the new luxury world, looking after your favourites should be (nearly) as much fun as buying them.” And although sustainability issues may not be the core of the business, what John calls “mindful spending”, is no doubt a welcome side product.
To that end she says that the ultimate ambition could definitely expand the scope of the business to include jewellery, watches and clothes. And as the only UK company to be chosen to join Farfetch’s accelerator programme Dream Assembly there are clearly other people who think they can do it too.