Sustainable Retail: The Repair Shop

Welcome to the latest sustainability column that takes a look at what retailing is doing to address the issues in its industry. Much of the ongoing focus will be on fashion but not exclusively so.

This month’s column takes a look at what is possible for brands looking to get into the business of repair as we test the theory that #repairisthenewcool

We are very pleased to bring this series of columns to you with the much appreciated support of our sponsor Prolog Fulfilment.

Many years ago there would have been tailors and seamstresses on every street corner and the business of mending shoes and clothes as well as the textile component on any other items such as armchairs would have been a very simple one. And then that all disappeared so that the normal consumer behaviour switched to what you might call ‘chuck and replace’. Now as the production system begins to come full circle there is once again an appetite from purchasers to buy smarter and keep longer – with repairing undertaken along the way.

However, with that also comes the expectation from the public that they can send or take an item (especially one with a higher price value) back to the brand or retailer they bought it from and have that repair done quickly and conveniently. This is instead of having to search out a dry cleaners or similar which also happens to do repairs and then hope the specific knowledge of that particular brand’s items and how they are put together is up to scratch, or lug the footwear round to a cobblers workshop and just pray the satin shoes come back unbesmirched with someone else’s boot polish. All in all, it’s a bit hit-and-miss.

So for brands and retailers the good news is a) the demand is definitely there and b) that consumers would ideally have the item originator or their trusted collaborators do the repairs. So numerous brands are now offering repairs and alterations with new offerings added all the time – just recently Heal’s launched a partnership with Hackney Upholstery Studio to allow for customisation and re-upholstery of its products with Heal’s sustainability lead Hannah Thistlethwaite noting: “It was important for us to provide a service that ensured the natural wear and tear of fabrics…didn’t compromise the longevity of the product.”

Dr Marten’s getting in on the repair act

Similarly Dr Martens has launched a UK shoe repair scheme working alongside The Boot Repair Company based in Leeds for consumers who still like their boots but do need a new sole (£80 approx for that repair rather than £170 for a new pair) and Fat Face similarly partnered with Clothes Doctor.

However, the bad news is that a lot more manufacturers and retailers regard offering repairs as a) a lot of fluffy do-gooding and b) an absolute lossmaking pain in the posterior with no upside for them at all. How wrong they are!

Retail Insider recently spoke to Amsterdam-based King of Repair Thami Schweichler, co-founder of United Repair Centre (URC), about his mission to bring a new repair factory for Patagonia and other brands to North London and why offering repairs is a no-brainer for businesses. He is adamant that the value creation for a brand and the likelihood of a longer and more positive relationship with that customer is very much underestimated.

URC co-founder: Thami Schweichler

Additionally, he cites the probability that customers will not mind paying for repairs as proof that it is not just a cost and finally he believes that a repair facility could also be used to mend faulty or damaged returns (for online purchases) making it easier to actually sell them rather than constantly writing off the loss.

His second venture, which opened late last year in Haringey, North London began with custom from Patagonia (which is a founding partner of URC) but Rapha has already jumped aboard and he says another 10 brands are keen to join. Schweichler, who foresaw the popularity of the circular business model and realised that a facility offering high quality tailoring expertise would be in demand, can afford to be quite smug about his foresight. He says his centres in London and Amsterdam are overflowing with pilot schemes for different brands. He cites the US and five more EU cities as the next places he will take his migrant-employing concept. He is very much determined to make companies regard repairing as not just a cost on the profit and loss account but as a credit.

Coming to a brand near you soon: the new United Repair Centre in North London

Schweichler contends that the UK is a particularly fertile ground for the venture as Britain globally has a worldwide reputation for quality tailoring skills and a long history of fabric and textile manufacture which is not always present in the rest of Europe. He is passionate that he would like to work with brands that sell fast fashion to migrate them away from those selling models.

He quotes a statistic that 80% of customers want to buy from more sustainable companies and says clearly: “Brands need a repair programme.” In addition, he is very aware of the IP and protective elements that brands have towards their products and is rolling out an advanced tech solution that effectively creates a standalone repairs platform for each brand. Bringing technology and repairs together sounds like a very positive step on the road to greater circularity.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider

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