Last fall, an app called Sojo was launched by the London-based entrepreneur Josephine Philips. Sojo’s concept is a simple one: clothing items in need of fixing will be picked up and professionally repaired or altered close by – no fuss, no muss, no sadness at the fate of your favourite pants.
On the tech side, Philips’s app, which currently services zones one and two of the bustling and sartorially-savvy metropolis, is part of the glut of on-demand H.S.E.D.I. (that’s “Have someone else do it”) digital platforms that delegate responsibility for your to-do list. From a fashion sustainability perspective, it addresses the growing awareness of the dire impact clothing consumption and waste has on both the planet and its inhabitants, including those who work in garment manufacturing in developing countries. Mending or updating pieces instead of tossing them in the bin is not a new idea, but it’s one that’s having a meaningful resurgence.
This summer, Penny Forde launched Toronto Denim Repair. It’s an Instagram-based business where Forde, who formerly fixed denim at the jean-centric boutique Dutil, takes in pieces with come-apart crotches and frayed hems to make them wearable once again. Forde revels in the opportunity to add a personal twist to restoring denim, including employing the Japanese mending method known as sashiko embroidery.
Forde came to repair by chance after reaching out to the owner of the Toronto studio Shoppe and Tailor, where he began to apprentice. “I wouldn’t say I’m handy,” Forde says. “[But] I really enjoy fixing things and making them new and usable again.” A keen follower of denim culture, Forde says that the need for an industrial sewing machine and specific thread to repair jean pieces means he’s seen an influx of business since launching. It’s not only designer denim that comes in for a refresh. More affordable attire also deserves another chance at being worn again – and can be mended.
Denim is one of the most popular types of garment brought into Toronto’s Third Floor Tailors. Owner and creative director Lilit Azaryan notes that, given the season, she is also seeing an influx of jackets and coats, including beloved hand-me-downs. Azaryan opened the shop in 2014 and says she’s seen a rise in customers recently. She attributes the interest to a shift in attitudes when it comes to our clothing and its life cycle. “I think COVID made us all rethink our behaviour in life – what’s important and what’s not important,” she says, noting that she’s had customers bring in up to 20 pieces at a time for tweaking. “So many superficial things have dropped off. And what’s left is, ‘Okay, this is me – how do I want to look? I’d rather have fewer pieces, but that are more mine, than many.’”
Azaryan has also noticed more casual items coming in for repair versus the professional goods such as suits that were predominantly brought in before. The shift toward work-from-home culture is having an impact on the clothing we wear (and wear out), leading people to consider their entire wardrobe as worthy of maintenance.
It’s not just independent studios that are abuzz with garment rehabilitation. London-based luxury retailer Selfridges introduced a repairs concierge service and partnership with The Restory (which specializes in shoe and handbag repairs) over the last year as part of its Project Earth initiative. “When it comes to repair, this felt like a natural service for us to offer to extend the lifespan of pieces,” says Selfridges’ head of womenswear, Jeanne Lee. “We have seen a really strong response.”
For those more comfortable with DIY, Metro Vancouver’s website provides a hub dedicated to video tutorials for mending practices (i.e. stitching a hole closed or repairing a torn seam) and also instructions for proper garment care, and there are other websites that provide similar tutorials. Companies including Toronto’s Shoe Laundry help take you one step further in the upkeep journey with plant-based cleansers and brushes.
In a recent interview with the platform Refinery29 while promoting her new book Consumed, author and fashion consultant Aja Barber painted a picture of how clothing repair should once again become part of how – and where – we shop. “Tomorrow’s high street … has a community workshop about repairing your clothing, it’s also got a cobbler so you can get your shoes fixed.” With the uptick in repair-focused businesses, her dream may already be becoming a reality.