Repairing Clothing: Transforming the Fashion Industry’s Approach to Sustainability

Fashion keeps on changing. To keep up with the trend, brands have accelerated mass-production of cheap and disposable clothing that is resulting into growth of ‘throwaway culture’. The launch of countless new collections by brands every season make people feel constantly out of date and drive the urge to purchase more. Under the influence of changing trends people ignore the environmental cost of the fashion industry.

A study done by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reveals that for the global population of 8 billion, around 19 pieces of clothing per person are manufactured yearly. Yet, the lesser-known aspect is the emissions generated throughout the lifecycle of clothing. In the current era, there is a trend of purchasing more clothes while wearing them less frequently.

Management consultant McKinsey’s Fashion on Climate report highlights that approximately 20 per cent of these emissions is produced from the way we wash, dry, and maintain our clothes. Furthermore, research published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin found that for an average wash load of 6 kg, over 700,000 fibres could be released into our waterways per wash, leading to the widespread distribution of synthetic textile microfibers even in the deepest ocean realms.

Despite all this, four in five people, own clothing items that they have never worn due to improper fit or the need for alterations. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than one per cent of fibre used to produce clothing is recycled to make new clothing. One cannot even imagine what happens to the rest 99 per cent of them. Amidst the abundance of environmentally harmful clothing production and disposal, the message becomes evident: the most sustainable garment is the one already present in our closet. Extending the lifespan of our pre-owned clothes, practicing mindful laundering, and actively repairing them are essential measures to tackle the climate crisis. As per WRAP’s (Waste and Resources Action Programme) findings, extending the lifespan of a garment by mere nine months results in a significant reduction of its carbon, waste, and water footprints, each decreasing by 20-30 per cent.

Consumers who desire to modify or alter their clothes often encounter obstacles, as evidenced by the huge amount of discarded clothes filling landfills. This situation opens a promising window of opportunity for brands capable of offering not only budget-friendly and complimentary repair services but also designing their collections with repairability and circularity as primary considerations right from the beginning. Repairing clothes or purchasing second-hand garments is no longer perceived as an embarrassing sign of poverty. In fact, it has become a trendy and fashionable choice to embrace these latest sustainable trends. In the past year, investors have put millions into start-ups in this space, coinciding with a rising number of brands offering repair services.

Trend of repair service in apparel brands

One of the companies who were pioneer of repair services is California-based Patagonia which is recognised globally for its environmental activism. Embracing its motto to make its garments last as long as possible, to buy less, and to avoid waste, the company launched the Worn Wear programme. The programme has been part of the Patagonia’s DNA since the 1970s. This initiative was specifically designed to promote responsible clothing care, emphasising proper maintenance and necessary repairs to increase the life of its products. The brand has opened more than 70 repair centres around the world which repair more than 100,000 garments per year. It also has a number of mobile repair stations across North America where customers can have clothing items of any brand repaired.

Another noteworthy brand is Swedish denim apparel company Nudie Jeans Co that started offering free repair services since 2012. The company offers free service for the lifetime of denim. Whether the zipper is broken, button issue or tear, the in-shop team can mend denim and make it brand new for its customers. As per The Guardian, Nudie repaired 65,386 pairs of jeans, resold 3,984 pairs, and collected 20,722 post-consumer jeans in 2022. 

Globally renowned denim brand Levi’s also has several Tailor Shops worldwide where one can get their denim repaired.

Investors have also invested millions into innovators such as Sojo, The Restory, The Clothes Doctor, and The Seam. They recognise the immense potential in facilitating easier access to repairs by establishing networks of skilled craftspeople, enabling them to connect with experts who can repair clothes. Sojo is an app-based service in London that offers convenient door-to-door clothing alterations and repairs. By connecting individuals with local tailors, it offers pick-up/delivery service to facilitate a seamless process for getting clothes altered or fixed with just a few clicks. The Restory offers a similar repair and aftercare service but specialises in luxury shoes and handbags by collaborating with retailers including Selfridges, Farfetch and Browns. 

The Seam markets itself as people’s ‘Digital Wardrobe’. It also offers garment care and repair services at scale. It is an online restoration service, which has collaborated with Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet to offer repair services. Its primary goal is to extend the life of their luxury goods, providing a range of options such as clothing adjustments and repairs, bespoke customisations, and care and restoration services for handbags, shoes, and jewellery. 

Repair services are becoming increasingly common, with even fast fashion brands joining in. Zara recently introduced its latest repair initiative, and Uniqlo has established a repair hub in New York.

By offering repair and alterations services, fashion brands offer opportunity to build deeper connections with consumers and understand how they use their clothes. This approach creates an opportunity to build meaningful relationships and better understand how customers interact with their apparel. In the coming days, an increasing number of fashion companies will redirect their marketing efforts away from fleeting trends and towards promoting the values of durability, longevity, quality, and conscientious care for their products. There is still a significant journey ahead in transitioning business models towards a point where consumers feel more comfortable with repairing clothing instead of throwing it.