Is Repair the Ticket to Circularity Too Few Are Paying Attention To?

When it comes to disrupting fashion’s waste cycle and shifting to more circular consumption methods, buying secondhand and renting have been heralded as the way forward.

But what the industry’s sustainability narrative likely won’t do is fully advocate to consumers that what’s even better than conscious consumption is zero consumption. This means buying nothing new — even if said purchases are upcycled or secondhand — working with what’s already in one’s closet and expanding clothing’s life cycle by way of repairs and alterations.

To encourage more consumers to go the way of zero consumption, a host of new platforms are now looking to make clothing repairs more accessible for the online generation and offer an antidote to throwaway culture.

In London, Josephine Philips founded the Sojo app at the beginning of the year as a way of offering an inexpensive, fuss-free way for Londoners to repair their clothing.

She created a network of tailors and seamstresses across the British capital, as well as more than 50 female riders — in an effort to create more jobs for women during the pandemic — who pickup and deliver clothing to and from customers’ homes.

“In order to reduce the amount of fashion waste — there’s $400 billion worth of waste per year as a result of our disposability culture — we wanted to make it extremely easy to repair your existing clothing,” said Philips, explaining that with a few clicks on the Sojo app, customers can arrange a pickup and pay as little as 10 pounds for their clothes to be “as good as new again.”

“We offer both high-end and lower-end seamstresses, from a bespoke suit tailor to a vetted lower-end dry cleaner who has still been doing repairs for 30 years and provides high quality. It’s about offering options for customers and helping them shift their mind-set to choose the repair over buying a new item. You might pay 15 pounds for a new zip but it means you aren’t buying a new jacket,” said Philips who cut her teeth at Depop. “It’s difficult because repairs were so inaccessible for young people, unless it was your mother doing it. We’ve been part of the system where if something is wrong you would simply dispose it and buy something new. But we’re slowly getting there.”

Sojo, which has been heralded as the “Deliveroo of repairs” for its convenient service, has already expanded beyond central London and has plans on moving into other British cities later this year.

Philips believes the return of repairs into fashion culture can also help both secondhand resellers and brands in the primary market ensure lower return rates.

“We can really help resellers because, very often, secondhand clothing might be ripped or damaged. That’s not a reason not to resell them, they just need to be repaired,” said Philips, pointing to a new partnership between Sojo and London’s buzzy vintage store Beyond Retro, where customers will be able to access alteration services in-store.

“Rental and resale are great, but there’s still that concept of buying attached to them,” Philips added. “Repair doesn’t get the time of day because it focuses in no way on consumption. We need to culturally shift away from alternative ways to buy clothing to slowing down how much we consume overall: That’s why repairs need to be in the spotlight. It might not be as glamorous or reliant on consumption, but it helps ask the question of how many clothes do we really need?”

The industry’s biggest secondhand players, Vestiaire Collective among them, are also recognizing the importance of extending garments’ life cycles — even if that means customers purchase less — and incorporating repairs services into their offer.

“Vestiaire Collective seeks to partner with services that can facilitate and encourage consciousness,” said a spokesperson at Vestiaire Collective. “Resale alone is not enough and part of our goals is to educate and help access the necessary means and tools to become more sustainable. Repairs complement circularity as extending the life of vintage pieces helps them continue to be part of the circular economy. If they have endured the test of time, they have given proof of their durability and this complements the circular business model.”

The popular app Whering, which allows users to digitize their wardrobes, has also recently incorporated a range of clothing caring services on its platform including sustainable dry-cleaning by Oxwash and repairs by Sojo.

“We consume five times as much as we did in 2000 and use things 40 percent less,” said Bianca Rangecroft, founder and chief executive officer of Whering. “A big part of Whering’s mission is to help people buy less and wear more — and with that comes garment care as the best way to ensure long-lasting wardrobes that we love.

“A green closet places extensive emphasis on looking after what you own; think repurposing, upcycling,” she continued. “For us, this is about creating a culture of caring for our clothes, by empowering our users to extend the life cycle of the garments they already own.”