It’s sad that so few things are deemed worthy of repair. It’s not just that so much of our material lives have become disposable, there’s also the lack of skill to actually do the repairs because so much manufacturing has consolidated in so few countries. I’ve always found factories fascinating. As a child I remember looking up to the towering steel mills in Cleveland and wondering just what goes on inside those huge buildings. That curiosity never left me and over the course of my career I’ve been lucky to walk the workshops of some of my favorite brands. I would inevitably find my way to the repair shop and hang around to see how these expert artisans can revive a pair of shoes or a jacket that is obviously beloved. These people doing the repairs are always some of the most highly skilled in the entire company. They’ve seen it all and can do it all. Watching that work being done is like falling down a rabbit hole in real life.
When you see the skill and effort that goes into a well-worn pair of shoes you start to appreciate the difference between something worth saving and things that should just be thrown away. Buying something that can have its life extended through repair is increasingly rare and unique. The companies that make things that last a long time and offer an avenue to refurbish those products to extend their lives should get more credit than they do. Despite every brand trying to claim sustainability chops, this is actually something that does prevent waste. I’m not an expert in sustainability, but if you buy one or two pairs of shoes that last for 10 or 20 years that seems less harmful to me.
With fix don’t replace in mind, I made a list of some brands who are doing things right and giving new life to some of our most loved possessions.
Crockett & Jones
I was invited to visit the C&J factory a few years ago and spent a good amount of time in the repair area with this talented man. I could stand and watch this type of thing all day. I’ve had my beloved Pembroke Brogues recrafted at the factory in Northampton and they come back (almost) better then new. The benefit of buying from a vertical company that does its own manufacturing can’t be overstated.
The Filson Restoration Department is the place that can fix or repair your Filson stuff. At one point the Seattle store had a huge FRD workshop and product offering of reworked bags and other interesting Filson goods. It was one of the best things you could buy at the flagship. It’s unclear at this time if the FRD product is still around, but the workshop can still do repairs on your favorite Filson pieces.
Omaha-based Artifact offers a service to repair its well-worn aprons like the below. These aprons end up being beautiful and almost better than new. I just bought a new apron for myself and a matching version for my daughter. One day we’ll hopefully send them in to get redone.
Red Wing Shoe Co.
This is the repair service I have probably used the most. The Red Wing Restoration process is great and all of the work is done at the main “Plant II” in Red Wing, MN. The people who work in the repair shop are wizards and can resurrect even the most beat-up footwear. Repairs for a pair of Red Wing boots is crucial because the break-in process can be so tough due to the leather footbeds. Once you’ve molded the boots to your feet the last thing you want to do is throw them out and start over.
In addition to Worn Wear and Patagonia’s trade-in / upcycle program our friends in Ventura have a bunch of how-to videos to fix your garments instead of throwing them away. In addition to all of the repairs, the Worn Wear endeavor has evolved into a pretty amazing resale platform that many companies have copied. Let’s be honest, the old Patagonia gear was the best, it’s a shame they don’t have the will to reshore some of the domestic manufacturing.
Rancourt & Co.
Our friends at Rancourt make refurbishing your worn Rancourt footwear easy by just making it an option on the website. I’ve had loafers, Rangers and other stuff refurbed in Lewiston and can attest to the fact that there’s not better feeling than getting a refreshed pair of your loved shoes back in the mail.
Of course you want to have your Barbour re-waxed occasionally, but you can also send it back to South Shields to be reworked. The craftspeople there can do fairly invasive work to bring a jacket back to life. The best time of year to send things in is obviously the spring when there’s enough time to get everything back before the weather is bad and you need it. I went to the factory years ago and got a repair on the spot. It was awesome and the people who work in the Barbour factory are amazing.