The Re­pair Econ­omy

Dis­pos­able fash­ions are yield­ing to a bur­geon­ing mar­ket for re­paired and re­pur­posed cloth­ing. The en­vi­ron­men­tal up­sides are clear, and brands are wak­ing up to the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of “re-com­merce.”

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY JACK HUGHES

Why ditch it, when you can stitch it?

That seems to be the un­of­fi­cial mantra for en­ter­pris­ing com­pa­nies try­ing to cash in on the re­pair econ­omy. Patag­o­nia, REI, Prana, Ibex, Eileen Fisher and Toad&Co are some of the bet­ter-known la­bels that have jumped in. But smaller de­sign­ers such as Jus­sara Lee, Dosa’s Christina Kim and Mary Ping of Slow and Steady Wins the Race are also on board with re­fur­bish­ing rather than re­plac­ing.

This it­er­a­tion of the shar­ing econ­omy is a bur­geon­ing one in the U.S. — es­pe­cially among the 83.1 mil­lion Mil­len­nial con­sumers who are en­vi­ron­men­tally minded and see thrift­ing, re­pair­ing, up­cy­cling and re­pur­pos­ing as some­thing to boast about, not hide. Just as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Zip­car and Meal Shar­ing have turned rides, overnight stays, cars and home cook­ing into shared ac­tiv­i­ties, re­pair­ing and re­selling cloth­ing is gain­ing trac­tion with brands and con­sumers alike and not just for cost-sav­ing rea­sons. One in three women shopped sec­ond­hand last year and the re­sale mar­ket is ex­pected to reach $41 bil­lion by 2022, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey from the on­line re­seller Thredup, based mainly on data and re­search from out­side firms.

An es­ti­mated $500 bil­lion worth of cloth­ing that is barely worn and rarely re­cy­cled is lost an­nu­ally. In sim­pler math, the av­er­age U.S. cit­i­zen throws away 70 pounds of cloth­ing each year. And if there are no signs of im­prove­ment, the fash­ion in­dus­try will use up a quar­ter of the world’s car­bon bud­get by 2050, ac­cord­ing to the Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion.

While the en­vi­ron­men­tal up­sides are clear, there are also fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for brands, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Denby, founder of The Re­newal Workshop, a Port­land, Ore.based start-up that re­fur­bishes and re­sells goods on­line. “The busi­ness model it­self is a prof­itable one. We have cre­ated a mar­ket-based so­lu­tion that solves this waste prob­lem for brands but also of­fers them the abil­ity to ac­tu­ally make money from this — in­stead of shred­ding it and send­ing it to a land­fill,” he said, adding that clients make “thou­sands” to “mil­lions,” depend­ing on the com­pany’s size.

The cloth­ing al­ter­ation ser­vices in­dus­try alone is a $2 bil­lion in­dus­try with no one com­pany dom­i­nat­ing the sec­tor, ac­cord­ing to IbisWorld. The in­dus­try is fac­ing more com­pe­ti­tion from other ar­eas that of­fer sim­i­lar ser­vices such as dry clean­ing and laun­dry. Tai­lors and seam­stresses may con­tinue to be af­fected as more brands em­brace re­pair­ing cloth­ing.

With clients such as REI, Prana, Ibex and Toad&Co, in­ter­est has been so strong that The Re­newal Workshop dou­bled the size of its fac­tory and its staff this year. Ad­di­tional ex­pan­sion is planned par­tially due to last week’s news that The North Face teamed with Re­newal to launch The North Face Re­newed. While the ini­tia­tive is a pi­lot pro­gram, this makes the $3.7 bil­lion VF Corp.owned brand the largest ap­parel com­pany to try sell­ing re­fur­bished ap­parel. Once a brand shows in­ter­est, Re­newal does an anal­y­sis and a pi­lot pro­gram. More brands will be added this year, and in 2019, the com­pany will of­fer an­other re­newal cen­ter, prob­a­bly on the East Coast, Denby said. Given the in­ter­est from Euro­pean brands, Re­newal also ex­pects to build an­other re­newal cen­ter in Europe next year. Each lo­ca­tion re­quires about 40 staffers.

“Brands are look­ing at ways to grow their rev­enues that aren’t just about mak­ing new things and sell­ing new things. Cir­cu­lar econ­omy think­ing has been around since the Sev­en­ties. It’s re­ally come back into strate­gic con­ver­sa­tions as brands start to look for dif­fer­ent ways to make money as the retail land­scape and tech­nol­ogy changes. They are fight­ing against re­ally big re­tail­ers and brands like Ama­zon,” Denby said.

With e-tail­ers such as Thredup, Tradesy and The Real Real sell­ing used prod­ucts from brands, “they are eat­ing the brands’ lunch. The smart brands are say­ing we want to be part of this re-com­merce in­dus­try,” Denby said. “In­stead of hav­ing to think about mak­ing an­other gar­ment, brands can sell the same gar­ment twice and make the mar­gin off one gar­ment.”

About a year ago, Patag­o­nia launched its Worn Wear e-com­merce busi­ness, build­ing on the suc­cess of its Worn Wear truck that of­fers on-the-spot re­pairs and sells gen­tly used goods. A sec­ond truck was re­cently added. And the pro­gram has been ex­tended into Europe, France, Ger­many, the U.K., Italy, Aus­tria and Switzer­land. Worn Wear is an off­shoot of the brand’s Com­mon Threads re­cy­cling pro­gram, which started in 2005. That evolved into en­cour­ag­ing con­sumers to re­pair and re­use gar­ments be­fore they re­cy­cled them.

Core prod­ucts like shirts, pants and jack­ets have been the most sought af­ter for Worn Wear. By fis­cal year 2023, Patag­o­nia ex­pects Worn Wear to ac­count for more than 10 per­cent of its over­all busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to Phil Graves, se­nior direc­tor of cor­po­rate devel­op­ment. Fu­el­ing some of that in­ter­est are con­sumers — es­pe­cially col­lege stu­dents — who ap­pre­ci­ate the sav­ings com­pared to full–priced retail mer­chan­dise. An­other driv­ing force is shop­pers who are eco-con­scious, he said.

Hav­ing spo­ken with six other com­pa­nies about re-com­merce for ap­parel and other cat­e­gories like home goods, Graves said, “We don’t want this to be seen as a small, cute, niche thing. We hope­fully want to blow it out in a big way and have some of the big­gest play­ers in the ap­parel sec­tor look closely at this and see if they can do it in their busi­nesses, too.”

Through Patag­o­nia’s in­ter­nal ven­ture cap­i­tal fund Tin Shed Ven­tures, the com­pany has in­vested in Yer­dle, Worn Wear’s e-com­merce part­ner. “Now that we’re see­ing the growth and the de­mand for Worn Wear, we’re ac­tu­ally craft­ing a new busi­ness unit. In­ter­nally, we’re very bullish on growing the pro­gram. We don’t have to wres­tle with the ques­tion of growth like we do with some new items,” Graves said.

While shop­pers like the ex­tra sav­ings that come with buy­ing re­paired goods, many are mo­ti­vated by more eco-minded con­sumerism.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the in­ter­est in re­pair­ing, lend­ing, shar­ing and link­ing work­ers closer to the de­sign process, trend fore­caster Li Edelkoort said, “Ev­ery­body is so tired of the bro­ken sys­tems, so there is a gen­eral need for a new ap­proach. Fu­ture gen­er­a­tions are no longer in­ter­ested in own­er­ship so that also al­lows us to be more im­pro­vised, flex­i­ble and fo­cused on smaller runs. They will not need that much but they will be­come more picky.”

She con­tin­ued, “I also be­lieve that over­con­sump­tion be­gins to sicken peo­ple. It has taken the thrill of shop­ping away. On­line shop­ping has done that even more so. The lack of thrill may be one of the big­gest mo­tives. Why is shop­ping no longer a ther­apy? That is the big ques­tion in peo­ple’s mind.”

At the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, stu­dents’ in­trigue in re­paired items, es­pe­cially “boro,” Ja­panese tex­tiles that have been mended to­gether, helped spark the idea for this fall’s ex­hi­bi­tion “Re­pair and De­sign Fu­tures.” Gar­ments from Kim’s Dosa, Too­good, Re­becca Ear­ley’s B.Ear­ley and Natalie Chanin’s Alabama Chanin will

An es­ti­mated $500 bil­lion worth of cloth­ing that is barely worn and rarely re­cy­cled is lost an­nu­ally.

be on view not just to demon­strate up­cy­cling but also their com­mu­nity-mind­ed­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for work­man­ship. “The deriva­tion of the word ‘repartee’ is to bring to­gether,” said RISD’s cu­ra­tor of cos­tumes and tex­tiles Kate Irvin. The ex­hi­bi­tion is meant to be “a provo­ca­tion for mak­ers, view­ers and con­sumers” and it will be set up to en­cour­age peo­ple to linger as op­posed to “the way we might be used to com­ing into a mu­seum, look­ing, think­ing you’ve got it and then you move on to the next thing.”

Kim is to lead a mend­ing pro­gram with RISD stu­dents next Jan­uary. And the RISD mu­seum is plan­ning “very ac­tive pro­gram­ming” through artists’ work­shops, talks, class lec­tures and in­te­grat­ing broader so­cial is­sues with one RISD pro­fes­sor con­sid­er­ing a se­ries about race and re­pair. “It’s hav­ing a darned sock to be able to serve as a spring­board for these much larger is­sues that tie into not only sus­tain­abil­ity bit so­cial re­la­tions and cul­tural break­downs,” Irvin said.

The fact that Kim earned this year’s fash­ion Na­tional De­sign Award from the Cooper He­witt Mu­seum is an in­di­ca­tion of the growing ap­pre­ci­a­tion of re­paired and re­pur­posed cloth­ing. “Re­pair­ing is one of the big­gest themes in my work. That’s how I grew up so it’s just nat­u­ral,” she said.

Lee is also spread­ing the word about what she calls “creative re­pair,” hav­ing just re­turned to New York from giv­ing two pre­sen­ta­tions in Brazil. The first was for the large denim pro­ducer Vi­cunha, where Lee said she used H&M’s re­cent re­port of $4.6 bil­lion of un­sold in­ven­tory as a warn­ing about fail­ing to pre­dict “con­sumers’ dras­tic and sud­den changes in be­hav­ior.”

“I urged them to buckle up and use creative ways to gen­er­ate busi­ness to sup­ple­ment loss of in­come from a much-needed pro­duc­tion down­siz­ing. They weren’t happy to hear me, but it made them think out­side of the cookie-cut­ter men­tal­ity they have been op­er­at­ing un­der for so long,” she said. “I used my ap­proach as an ex­am­ple of ex­actly that. I am pro­duc­ing less ‘stuff’ and gen­er­at­ing in­come for the busi­ness by of­fer­ing creative mend­ing.”

The fash­ion stu­dents, de­sign­ers and aca­demics at her sec­ond talk at Goaiâ­nia Fed­eral Univer­sity were more en­thu­si­as­tic with “a lot of ques­tions.” In her West Vil­lage store, Lee has or­ga­nized mend­ing events and five more are planned for the next six months.

An­other ap­proach is Eileen Fisher Re­new, a take-back pro­gram launched in 2009 de­signed to re­sell gen­tly won Eileen Fisher clothes or turn them into new de­signs. More than one mil­lion gar­ments have been ac­cepted to date, and last year, Re­new gen­er­ated $3 mil­lion in sales, ac­cord­ing to fa­cil­i­tat­ing man­ager Cyn­thia Power. Later this sum­mer, a new Brook­lyn store will open to show­case its cir­cu­lar econ­omy ef­forts.

An­nu­ally, the com­pany typ­i­cally sees 13 to 15 per­cent gains in the num­ber of gar­ments that are brought in for Re­new, Power said. About 55 per­cent of those items are in good enough con­di­tion to be resold. Some of the oth­ers are re­designed in the Re­zone area of the de­signer’s small fac­tory in Irv­ing­ton, N.Y. Overdye­ing and mend­ing col­lec­tions are be­ing de­vel­oped, and new tech­nol­ogy to fur­ther the cause, Power said.

Ping of Slow and Steady Wins the Race started an En­core col­lec­tion made with sur­plus goods five years ago. Cus­tomers also have the op­tion of giv­ing back worn items to the com­pany for a credit on a fu­ture pur­chase. Why many con­sider the idea of work­ing with a tai­lor or seam­stress to re­pair gar­ments as be­ing an­ti­quated baf­fles Ping. “I re­ally don’t un­der­stand the rea­son why cloth­ing, which has a lot more ef­fort put into it from start to fin­ish, just gets tossed aside like it’s a plas­tic straw,” she said. “I’m def­i­nitely an ad­vo­cate for re­pair­ing, es­pe­cially shoes. It’s great too that you’re keep­ing peo­ple em­ployed who pro­vide that ser­vice.”

Alan Eck­stein’s up­cy­cled Every­one

Wins la­bel sold out in two weeks at Fred Se­gal ear­lier this spring. An­other op­tion is Woolfiller, which re­pairs holes and hides stains in woolen gar­ments by us­ing a nee­dle to open up the fibers that then bind to­gether. Lon­don­ers have the op­tion of sewing at the com­mu­nal ta­bles at the Sew Over It café or The Clothes Doc­tor, an on­line start-up that of­fers al­ter­ations. And “The Shoe Sur­geon,” Do­minic Cham­brone, has el­e­vated sneaker re­pair with the help of his 351,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers and spe­cial projects with such brands as Nike, Reese’s and Pizza Hut.

Other sec­tors have ro­bust sales sell­ing re­newed goods. The global mar­ket for re­fur­bished elec­tron­ics is said to be $58.8 bil­lion. Just as Ap­ple has its cer­ti­fied Re­fur­bished pro­gram, the French start-up Back Mar­ket en­ables shop­pers to buy elec­tronic de­vices from cer­ti­fied re­fur­bish­ing fac­to­ries, distrib­u­tors and big-name brands — for 30 to 70 per­cent lower than cur­rent mar­ket prices. Back Mar­ket re­cently se­cured $48.2 mil­lion in sec­ond round fund­ing from such ven­ture cap­i­tal firms as Groupe Ar­nault and Eu­razeo. It said the mar­ket for re­fur­bished smart­phones ex­panded 13 per­cent in 2017, com­pared to 3 per­cent growth for new de­vices.

The cloth­ing la­bel Virtue + Vice has in­cluded a re­pair el­e­ment for con­sumers, who sign up for a $3,500, 10-day tour to meet its sup­pli­ers in In­dia. Led by founders Me­lanie DiSalvo and Wil­liam Fink, the trip is geared for stu­dents and peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in sus­tain­able and eth­i­cal fash­ion. With stops in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Ma­hesh­war, par­tic­i­pants will have the op­por­tu­nity to re-dye or block print old cloth­ing. In a cut-and-sew fac­tory,they will learn ba­sic mend­ing skills like sewing but­tons and hem­ming.

Even more novel is the Closet.Pal app that is in devel­op­ment to re­mind users what is al­ready in their clos­ets and how to bet­ter man­age those be­long­ings. One of the cre­ators, Sabine Lettmann said, “Closet.Pal teaches you about how to com­bine what you have, care for it and, if nec­es­sary, how and where to swap or sell what you don’t like. At the same time, the app con­nects users with real life com­mu­ni­ties who ei­ther know how to re­pair [this can be app users within your neigh­bor­hood] and teaches how to re­pair if you need real ad­vice. It also con­nects to lo­cal de­sign­ers who can do some re­design to re­fresh old things or who use un­wanted clothes for own up­cy­cling.”

The Closet.Pal team has a pro­to­type to use at pre­sen­ta­tions, but the team is still work­ing on its launch. “We still need fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment to bring it to life,” Lettmann said.

Patag­o­nia’s Worn Wear ve­hi­cle trav­els to dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions to of­fer re­pairs on-the-spot.

An em­ployee works on a jacket at The Re­newal Workshop.

Patag­o­nia sells re­fur­bished gar­ments on­line and in select stores.

A Nor­agi work coat from the late-1800s to mid-1900s will be part of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Eileen Fisher has col­lected more than one mil­liongen­tly worn gar­ments. Here, an em­ployee restor­inga gar­ment in its New York fac­tory.

An Alabama Chanin fall 2007 dress for the “Re­pair and De­sign Fu­tures” ex­hi­bi­tion at the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign.

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