Comment: Repair services move out of the shadows
Hidden away on a typically non-descript industrial estate in North London, where you take your life into your own hands as you navigate around articulated lorries, is the latest outpost of United Repair Centre (URC) that sits in what was formerly an active clothing manufacturing hub.
The workshop is rather like the rest of the repair industry – under the radar and difficult to find. But this situation could be on the verge of changing. Thami Schweichler, co-founder of URC, is among those people looking to fix the problem as he believes repairs represent the future of the circular economy and that it will be embedded in all business models in the future.
There is lots of talk about recycling, rentals, and re-commerce through online marketplaces but less is said about repairs. It has not been particularly fashionable even though it is undoubtedly the most effective route to reducing the effect of the clothing industry on the environment. Just consider that 82% of textiles that are regarded as waste can be repaired, altered or upcycled, according to The Renewal Workshop.
Part of the problem has been that brands see the offer of repair as a cost on the P&L but Schweichler reckons this mind-set could be shifted towards it being about value creation for brands whereby there is the potential for a longer and more meaningful relationship with customers. There is also the probability that customers will not mind paying for repairs, and the additional kicker is that a repair facility could also be used to mend faulty or damaged returns (from online purchases) making it easier to actually sell them rather than constantly writing off the loss.
Long recognising the upsides of repair is sustainability exemplar Patagonia that is a founding partner of URC. Also joining up in North London is Rapha and a batch of other brands are also expected to be attracted to the workshop where they will be able to tap into its growing tailoring and repairing capabilities.
The visibility of repair is also being helped by a growing number of brands 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.
Meanwhile, Dr Martens has launched a UK shoe repair scheme working alongside The Boot Repair Company in Leeds for consumers who still like their boots but need a new sole, and Fat Face has partnered with Clothes Doctor for its ‘Fat Face Repair.Renew’ service. Other prominent brands have also begun offering in-store mending services including Mulberry, Barbour, Uniqlo, Toast and sneaker brand Veja.
URC is not alone in providing a repair service brands can utilise. Also delivering repair capabilities are the likes of Sojo, Save Your Wardrobe and The Seam. Some of these services tap into the skills of a dispersed network of individuals through a similar model to that of Deliveroo and its couriers.
This mushrooming of services that retailers can now leverage certainly makes like easier for them and should undoubtedly ease their route into repairs. They certainly do not have to embark on this journey alone.
The boost given to repair by the growth of third-party service providers, the growing provision of such services by retailers, and the statistic that 80% of customers want to buy from more sustainable companies, is given a further uplift by the growing movement among influencers towards mending being the cool and creative approach to clothing and fashion.
Although the last factor could be quite fickle there is no doubt that repair is moving up the agenda of retailers and enjoying ever greater visibility as it begins to move out of the shadows and play a more meaningful role in the circular economy.