In the classic British sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, the ever-sharp Trigger claims that he’s had his road sweeper's broom for 20 years. He goes onto say that the broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles. "How can it be the same bloody broom then?" asks Sid, the cafe owner. Trigger produces a picture of him and his broom and asks: "what more proof do you need?”.
Repairing and replacing is nothing new. People have been repairing their shoes since they started wearing them, but the repair market has been rebranded as anti-disposable and a solution to our ever-growing consumerism.
Television programmes such as The Repair Shop have caught people’s imaginations and have shown the emotional attachment to items. Not everything is so easily thrown away. Being able to breathe new life into old and cherished items is a skill and service many brands are tapping into.
Selfridges recently launched a repair service, but how can brands make money from it and is there anything really new?
Part of Selfridge’s “Project Earth” sustainability initiative, the department store offers to repair shoes, accessories, jewellery, eyewear, replace watch batteries and much more with its “Repair Concierge” where you can book a virtual consultation with one of its repairs experts, who will be able to identify which service you need from the comfort of your own home. Selfridges has also partnered with The Restory in its London, Trafford and Birmingham stores to “bring your favourite shoes and bags back to their former glory.”
Vanessa Jacobs, Founder & CEO of The Restory, says: “We have grown 200% every year since our inception in 2015. We know that most brands are seeing 2%-3% of units sold come back as aftercare requests per year, but of the few that do offer aftercare in earnest, we can see the potential is much higher.”
The Restory is the official “aftercare" partner for Brownsfashion, Farfetch, Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. It is set to announce a similar partnership with its first global brand later this month. So, who is the customer?
“Men and women who invest in their personal style,” says Jacobs. “Brands and retailers who want to make easy, trustworthy, and fun aftercare accessible to their clients and customers and business' engaging in the resell and rental space, all product needs aftercare to continue to be desirable with usage.
“People have always wanted to repair, they just struggled to find an easy, trustworthy way to do it. However, sustainability and the awareness of fashion’s impact has grown that consumer demand considerably in the last few years. Just like your home or your car, your wardrobe needs maintenance; be it cleaning, simple repairs or some large or small renovation.
“We have elevated the aftercare experience, for the first time, it is like an extension of the fashion experience – not some disconnected encounter executed by someone who has no appreciation for the role those shoes, for example, play in your life,” she says.
While the case for the consumer to embrace repair is clear, why would retailers offer such a service when it might be better for them financially to focus on getting customers to replace their items with new buys.
“Our partnerships are commission-based but the real opportunity for brands and retailers is in the brand loyalty and affinity, engagement and frequency of touchpoints and the insight into behavioural impacts,” says Jacobs. “Currently, for retailers and brands, aftercare is operationally complex, additional overheads and disruptive to production.”
The case for repairing cannibalising new sales is not clear cut. Indeed, knowing that the life of an investment item can be prolonged may make a customer more likely to take the plunge and buy it, Jacobs says.
"There is no evidence that it cannibalises sales some of our partners report that it increases purchases."
Vanessa Jacobs, The Restory
“The presence of our services inspires more thought consumption, greater investment in style and confidence that the promise of enduring desirability is maintained for as long as possible. There is no evidence that it cannibalises sales some of our partners report that it increases purchases.” says Jacobs. “We aim to transform the season throw-away culture and empower consumers to invest in the brands they love, shifting sales away from the most egregious fast fashion suppliers.
“We took the view that if we were going to create a luxury category of aftercare, we would need to start with the most broken yet the most emotional corner of the market, shoes and handbags. This has been the majority of our business to date, and in the future we will be bringing our expertise to clothing, jewellery and watches.”
True luxury shoppers will tell you that some brands have been taking shortcuts on quality for a number of years now. While this might be good news for repair services, it does in fact make their job a bit more tricky, says Jacobs: “Even the highest quality product requires aftercare from nourishing leather creams to reheeling and restoring scuffed corners. However low-quality products require more services due to construction methods and poor-quality materials increase the complexity around repair and impact results in restoration.”
Jacobs says her favourite items to restore are quilted flap bags, ballerina flats, white trainers, and Louis Vuitton Neverfull totes. “The vintage Louis Vuitton travel trunks are a lot of work but so gratifying,” she says.
On a more mass-market level, Timpson is famed for its shoe mending services in regional stores, however it has recently expanded its services. Opened in October 2020, its additional facility in Rugby offers a wider range of repair services to clothes and accessories.
James Timpson, Timpson CEO of Timpson Group, tweeted at the end of March 2021: “Our customers are starting to get their clothes ready for getting out and about. Here is a look at our garment repair factory in Rugby...it’s never been fuller!”
“At our core, we are a support centre to our 2,100 branches across the UK and we are hoping to grow our ‘Rips & Zips’ service even further. We also often offer support to manufacturers and retailers up and down the country,” says Jody Harris-Cook, Timpson Excellence Centre Support Manager.
“We have a small building in Rugby that deals with all kinds of repairs and alterations sent in by our branches across the UK. Currently we have 14 excellent repair colleagues, an administrator who answers the phones and keeps our branch colleagues happy, and a manager to keep all of our repairers happy!
“Between them, they repair a wide range of items from buttons on shirts, to alterations of vintage wear and wedding gowns. The building has been running since October 2020 and currently we turnaround approximately 800 items every week.
“People are starting to realise that a throwaway society is not sustainable. We are receiving really well-loved items that customers have owned for years; it’s our job to make sure they can continue wearing that favourite blazer, or that handbag they purchased with their first payslip. It’s also trendy and economical. More and more, we are receiving items from customers who love to grab a bargain from their local charity shop, eBay, Facebook marketplace etc.
“You really can pick up some beautiful items this way, designer items, something different or vintage. With new apps such as Vinted popping up regularly, you can do this binging Netflix. Social media influencers are also having a big impact on changing people’s opinion on buying second-hand,” he says.
With more and more retailers adding repair services, will it become more difficult to make money from the service?
“It comes down to quality repairers and managing customer’s expectations. I am lucky enough to work with some very skilled colleagues who have done some very weird and wonderful repairs during their time with us, and some of the items they produce really blow me away. That’s not to say that sometimes, with damage and extreme wear, we can always return garments, shoes, mobile phones to their out-of-the-wrapper state. It’s about managing customer’s expectations and offering the best advice and, of course, quality of repair,” says Harris-Cook.
Again the falling quality of goods can also make Timson’s job more challenging but it’s something the repair experts relist, says Harris-Cook. “It does make things a little tricker, but to be honest, it really is the way garments are made that make things difficult for us.
“Just yesterday, I had to call a customer who had sent us a branded designer handbag to tell her that to remove and replace the main zip, we would have to remove 6 brass branded studs and we wouldn’t be able to replace them like for like. These sorts of studs are pressed into the leather and have to be damaged to remove them. Luckily, the customer was happy for us to replace these studs with our own unbranded ones.
“One thing we are seeing is breaking down of PU faux leather trims. When we get something like this in, we try to replace where possible with genuine leather (after confirming with the customer – vegan customers of course do not want real leather used!). Genuine leather is more durable during dry cleaning and for everyday use, but it is more expensive and this is reflected in the repair price,” he says.
“I would say that favourite items to restore are biker jackets. The beautiful, vibrant colours on the sleeves and on the reverse wear over time with rain, sunshine and damp. We can clean and then repaint these colours which is very time consuming but so worth it.” says Harris-Cook.
“Our most challenging repairs are handbag zips and relines of items such as coats. Handbags are filled with tight, strong seams and hardwearing leather. Coats basically have to be taken to pieces and remade with fresh lining material. We create new inner pockets and replace the original manufacturer’s labels, too!” he says.
“We once had an amazing gown in for alteration from a drag queen and that was really one to remember. It really made us smile; these are the kind of things we love getting!”
Brands such Barbour, Crockett & Jones, Patagonia and Finsterre all offer a repair service on their products. Mulberry mends over 10,000 of their bags per year via its established teams of highly skilled artisans. This has been a core service of the business since its beginning, and today it holds archives of leathers and components going back over 35 years. Designer Christoper Raeburn has made repair central to his selling. He offers free repairs of Raeburn garments to encourage our customers to keep their clothes for as long as possible.
Susannah Davda, AKA “The Shoe Consultant” who advises shoe brands globally, says, “Some people have been paying to have their garments repaired for as long as they can remember. Others began taking their clothes and accessories to be repaired when they realised this was a more sustainable way to consume than buying new each time something wore out.
“The process starts with ensuring that customers value their purchases from the start. Retailers and brands need to tell the story of the materials and skilled makers involved in the garment. This promotes an emotional connection with the customer early on,” says Davda.
“When this product x customer relationship develops as the garment is worn, talked about, and connected with important moments, the customer is more likely to want to sustain this connection by repairing the piece. The retailer then needs to make the repair process frictionless, and trustworthy. If this high level of service is achieved, a customer will pay more than they might from their local tailor or shoe/bag repairer and the retailer will make a worthwhile profit. Offering a repair service also nurtures the retailer’s relationship with the customer, who is more likely to purchase a new item from them in the future.
“If repair is not part of an overall strategy for reducing the retailer’s environmental impact, then marketing a new repair service could be seen as greenwashing. However, any well-considered steps a brand or retailer takes towards sustainability should be considered to be positive.
“In footwear, poorer perceived quality often lies in the fit or materials, rather than strength and durability. So cheaply made mass-produced shoes may last longer than delicate, finely made luxury footwear. Every price or quality level of shoe will need to be repaired eventually, providing the construction allows that. There are opportunities to offer a shoe repair service at all market levels,” she says.
Another booming market at the moment is resale, which again taps into the consumer shift towards more sustainable consumption. Should specialist resale sites or retailers offer a repair service to complement their pre-loved offer?
“If resale sites were considering offering a repair service, they would need to consider how to build trust with their potential customers. Providing compelling reasons which would mean people would use the resale site’s repair service rather than that of the retailer or brand who originally sold the product, or a trusted local repairer,” says Davda.
Resale and repair should go hand-in-hand, so there is opportunity here for resellers to offer repair services, an extra revenue stream, while helping to maintain or increase the price of the items. And it’s starting to happen.
Luxury vintage marketplace, Open for Vintage has partnered with restoration and repair business, Handbag Clinic, to strengthen and expand its “circular offering”. Handbag Clinic currently restores over 700 bags per month and is the longest established “luxe restoration” service in the UK.
Available from this month, Open for Vintage users will be able to book in their pre-loved bags for a range of services via the new Repair & Restore Portal. Customers simply provide details of the service they require as well as images of their product, and Handbag Clinic will respond with a bespoke quote. Cleaning and stain removal will be available from £45, whilst repair services, encompassing everything from scratches to replacing broken zips and improving shape or colour loss, will be available from £135 to restore visitor’s vintage treasures to their former glory.
For those looking to add their personal touch to their vintage item, a “customise” option will also be available to colour change, update detailing or add new straps or chains. The brand said the decision to collaborate with Handbag Clinic came after a third consecutive year of bags outselling all other categories on the Open for Vintage site, with pre-loved handbags making up 62% of all sales in 2020.
While repairing is not new, the emphasis on sustainability is. Finding a trusted repairer and an acceptable level of pricing to justify the repair is what will make this market grow. It needs to be feasible and cost-effective to repair the item for the majority of people.
Expect to see more brands partner with repair services are they move into resale and, if items retain their value, many consumers will see repair as a worthy and shrewd investment, not just for the environment.