Sustainable Fashion: Keep calm and get it repaired
Welcome to the latest column within our broader sustainability section, which focuses on
what fashion retailing is doing to address the issues in its industry.
This month’s column highlights how the old-fashioned concept of ‘make do and mend’ is
finding new relevance on the High Street. Brought to you by Retail Insider
with Clipper and Give Back Box.
We reckon high street cobblers are the only tradespeople that have persisted as readily-available
apparel menders in the modern age. But in the era of sustainability, and with a focus on
consuming no more than you need, the idea of elongating the life of the clothes we wear is
fast shifting from being a slightly odd and under-used add on service offered by a very few
to being something that will influence consumer’s choice of where to buy from.
Of course there have always been companies such as Patagonia who shouted about
repairing from the early days. Its repair service costs $5 for the round shipping trip of the
item and can take up to 20 weeks but the cost of repair is borne by the company. In
addition, there are how-to videos on its site, stories of treasured garments on its Worn
Wear blog and in 2015 the company went the whole hog by kitting out a truck with sewing
machines and sending its repairers on a US-wide tour where crucially they would mend any
brand brought to them to highlight the mantra ‘If it’s broke, fix it’.
Back in the UK Retail Insider has previously highlighted repair businesses working in the
luxury sector such as The Restory – these repairs are, however, pricey and remain largely
the preserve of the affluent Gucci-buying demographic. Slowly, however, the repair sector is
beginning to democratise slightly and shift downwards to the High Street.
As part of its Planet Earth project Selfridges has set its sights on making half of its customer
interactions about resale, repair, rental or refill by 2030. That’s ambitious.
The store asks consumers to book a virtual appointment with one of its ‘repair concierges’ who will
determine if and how the item can be repaired. Selfridges can currently repair shoes,
accessories, jewellery, eyewear and replace watch batteries and these services have proved
so popular that last year 28,000 repairs were carried out – more than a third of those were
on pairs of trainers and there are both in-store drop off and home delivery options. The
retailer is now going to make these repair departments available outside London for the first
time and introduce them in Birmingham and Manchester.
Elsewhere in the mid-market Uniqlo has found to its advantage that repairing dovetails very
neatly with another trend – customisation. The Japanese retailer has just expanded its
repair offering to a store in London to join the existing outlets in Berlin and New York.
Currently it is only Uniqlo products that can be brought in for repair but this may change
and if demand continues to be high then a roll-out to some other UK shops will be
considered. Minor repairs at a modest price, such as a new belt hole for £2, are offered.
The retailer appreciates, without judgement, that people will genuinely throw away a good shirt
because a button is missing and they do not know how to sew it back on so a series of basic
‘how to’ videos are on the site as well. But, interestingly, the chain is also mending its new
but damaged stock with patches or elaborate embroidery (the same repair staff can do the
customisation jobs too) and is finding that this uniqueness actually increases the value of the
item. When customers started asking for these services when mending their clothes the
team was expanded.
Once retailers truly appreciate the fact that for a good proportion of customers discarding
damaged items is not what they want to do, but they have no choice because they do not
have the skills or the options with retailers, then the possibilities will be endless. Either to
sell them repair services or to teach them the skills to do it themselves. Just think of the
positive PR value of asking older people from the ‘make do and mend’ generation to come
in-store and share their knowledge with younger customers with demonstrations and