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21 May 2024

Are We Entering a New Age of Repair?

Are We Entering a New Age of Repair?

It wasn't that long ago that repairs were a part of everyday life. But as products became more widely available at affordable prices, the balance began to shift away from ‘make do and mend’ to buying new. And to keep buying new.


In fact, it’s often cheaper for consumers to buy a replacement product rather than have something repaired. This might be due to the complexity of the product or the high cost of labour or official spare parts. It might be because it wasn’t designed for repair or it will invalidate the warranty. The quality of the material might mean it can’t be repaired. And so on.


In the case of simple repairs, many consumers now lack the skills and time to tackle them themselves.


Ultimately, repairing an item is often not worth the time, money or effort that a consumer has to go to. But perhaps things are changing.


Last year 55% of UK adults repaired an item instead of replacing it with a new equivalent one, according to Deloitte’s Sustainable Consumer 2023 report.


What’s more, 76% of consumers said they would consider using a repair service (compared with 73% in 2022).


What’s Driving Consumer Interest in Repairs?

The ongoing cost-of-living crisis is one factor behind consumer interest in repairs. Shoppers are looking to make their purchases last longer to get the most out of the money they spend. They’re also buying more second-hand products that may need repairing.


In 2022, the BBC reported that there were an estimated 2,400 ‘repair cafes’ worldwide, including over 250 in the UK. Repair cafes are communally run spaces where consumers can bring their broken products to be repaired or receive advice from expert volunteers. Often repairs are offered for free or a small donation.


The global lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic may also have a role to play in the shift. With many businesses closed and consumers forced to stay at home, individuals had the time they needed to learn how to make repairs. For some, necessity was also a factor because they couldn’t just go and easily buy a replacement or have someone come to the house.


According to a 2022 survey by ReLondon, 28% of Londoners taught themselves to repair something during the pandemic. In 2023, UK department store John Lewis reported that sales of darning wool had doubled year-on-year. Sales of repair products were also up 61%.


By far the biggest factor behind the growing interest in repairs is the consumers’ desire to be more sustainable. Increasing the longevity of every purchase is one way to reduce the amount of waste an individual generates.


In ReLondon’s survey, 23% of Londoners said they have repaired more because they have become more concerned about the climate crisis.


When asked ‘What makes a product or a service sustainable’, 45% of UK adults said if it can be easily repaired or fixed, and 49% said if it is durable and will last a long time, according to Deloitte’s Sustainable Consumer 2023 report [respondents could choose more than one response].


Why Brands are Committing to Repair

While some consumers will want to learn repair skills (where feasible), the biggest opportunity for brands and retailers lies in providing repair services. 


In April, UK door-to-door clothing alterations and repairs platform SOJO launched a new Pledge to Repair initiative. Backed by the British Fashion Council, fashion brands are invited to sign the pledge to show their commitment to providing repair services. Only brands who offer a UK-wide repair service - as opposed to a single store initiative - and have a dedicated repair area on their website are eligible to sign.


SOJO says that the repairs can be provided in-house, via another partner, or through SOJO itself. Unsurprisingly, many of the initial signatories are SOJO’s client brands, including Ganni, Nanushka, Ahluwalia, and recent partner Vestiaire Collective.


Interestingly, consumers can also pledge their commitment to repairing garments rather than replacing them. SOJO says that the Pledge is designed to build a “collaborative coalition with the potential of influencing policy on a governmental level”.


One signatory is the United Repair Collective, a collaboration between Patagonia, Makers Unite, and the Amsterdam Economic Board, which has repair centres in Amsterdam and London. United Repair Collective offers a B2B clothing repair service for clothing brands, helping the likes of Decathlon, Lululemon, Rapha, and (of course) Patagonia to offer repair services to their end customers.


Perhaps the most important thing about the Pledge to Repair initiative is that it gets brands to commit to making repair a real part of their business - not just a small-scale marketing exercise.


It also speaks to the ever-growing body of legislation worldwide that is putting the spotlight on repairs. This includes UK and EU “Right to Repair Regulations”, which cover access to spare parts and technical information to increase repairability of certain electrical items. 


In recent weeks, the EU Parliament also voted in favour of a directive that requires manufacturers to provide repairs for household goods that are considered "repairable" - even outside of the legal guarantee - to encourage consumers to extend a product’s lifecycle through repair. The directive is now awaiting final approval.


The European Commission has also proposed new rules that will make the producers of textile products responsible for their full lifecycle. Similar legislation is already in place in France and the Netherlands.


Of course, one way to make products last longer is to be able to repair them. But this legislation could have a positive effect on the entire circular model. Products that are designed to last longer are also a better fit for the rental and resale markets.


Image credit: Uniqlo

Is There Room for Repairs on the High Street?

When it comes to increasing the uptake of repair services, cost is a major factor. But another important element is visibility. Consumers need to know that repair services are an option.


While there are lots of digital-first businesses, like SOJO, The Seam and The Restory, that collect products and repair them, a true shift towards repair means also bringing these services to the physical spaces that consumers are visiting.


In February, leading London department store Selfridges opened a permanent repair space from the aforementioned SOJO. As well as booking appointments, customers can just walk in to access a range of clothing repair services, starting from just £5.


The space has some on-site tailors, but most items will be sent to SOJO’s East London studio to be repaired with the option of collection from Selfridges or home delivery.


French sustainable trainer brand Veja has opened stores with in-house cobblers in a number of key cities including Berlin, Madrid, Paris, New York, and - most recently - London. Consumers can bring their sneakers in to be cleaned or repaired for a small fee.


These spaces are brand agnostic, which means consumers can bring any brand of sneaker in to be repaired. This almost gives the stores the position of local cobbler and provides consumers with a way to discover Veja’s brand. This can be seen most clearly in the Paris General Store, which doesn’t sell any shoes, but does display Veja’s latest ranges on the walls.


Meanwhile, Japanese fashion company Uniqlo is increasingly adding repair, alteration and customisation spaces to its latest store openings, including Paris and London. While the brand falls into the fast fashion category, by visibly offering repair services Uniqlo helps to shift consumer mindsets towards repair as an everyday offering.

It’s not just the repair services themselves that are becoming more visible. We’re also seeing more retail businesses highlight how repairable products are at the point of sale. 

Since 2021, France has implemented a repairability index that requires the manufacturers of certain electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops and TVs, to give their products a score based on how repairable they are. This year Belgium announced that it would be introducing a repairability index for some household appliances from 2026.

Over in Berlin, Manufactum Warenhaus is an unusual department store focused only on stocking long-lasting, high quality products that are worth keeping and caring for.

The company looks for products made of natural ingredients and reusable materials, as well as manufacturers that use resource-saving and socially responsible production. Manufactum also makes sure that individual parts in the products it sells can be replaced and the mechanics repaired, so that they stay in circulation for longer.


Is This a Return to Repair Culture?

Putting all of these pieces together it feels as though we are on the cusp of entering a new age of repair. 


After years of repairs being prohibitive in some way for most consumers, increasingly repair looks to have a key role to play in responding to consumer and legislative pressures. For it to succeed though, manufacturers and brands need to embrace it and remove as many barriers as possible.


This means that offering a repair service is not going to be enough. As SOJO’s Pledge to Repair initiative aims to foster, brands need to commit to repairs. They need to offer transparency around the price and environmental impact of repairs, as well as increase access and make repairing products convenient.


Most importantly, they need to make consumers aware that repair is an option. And that it’s a good one. 

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