These Metro Vancouver Companies Want to Help You Keep Your Clothes Longer

A roar fills the room as Tess Gobeil turns on a red machine and a wheel begins to spin.

She holds a sandal and runs her soles against the surface of the wheel, smoothing its edges.

The sanding belt is one of many wheels in the large piece of equipment used to restore shoes, including the one held by Gobeil – one of several in the queue for repairs at Awl Together Leather.

Since opening in 2021, the East Vancouver boutique has fixed everything from knitted cardigans and denim jeans to leather boots. This year, they served over 7,500 customers.

Amid growing concerns over textile waste, repairs offer a last resort for damaged clothes before they end up in a landfill.

Ariss Grutter, co-owner of Awl Together, holds up a leather jacket in their East Vancouver studio. Besides leather clothing and shoes, Awl Together also repairs denim and knitwear. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

« You can buy new shoes every six months to a year, but when you choose to fix them, you’re making the choice that these are my boots and I want to keep wearing them, » said Gobeil, who co-founded the studio. .

« It’s just a commitment to decide what you’re going to do and take it seriously and personally. »

Textiles are one of the fastest growing sources of waste in the world. According to the UN, the garment and textile industry contributes up to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In Metro Vancouver, residents throw away about eight kilograms of clothing – the weight of about 44 t-shirts – per person per year. The closing of Return-It textile recycling bins earlier this year also meant fewer ways to deal with old or damaged clothes.

That’s why startups like Awl Together say they want to make repairs easier and more accessible.

« A Piece of Memory »

About a 15-minute drive south, a studio in Richmond caters to a different kind of clothing: outdoor gear, including down jackets, waterproof pants, and ski gear.

« I want to use my…technical apparel knowledge to repair as much as possible, » said Vincent Guo, who founded Renewt Technical Apparel in 2020.

A man in a black toque and gray jacket is pictured inside. Behind him are rows of sewing threads.
Vince Guo, founder of Renewt, is pictured in his store in Richmond, British Columbia. Renewt offers garment repair services for down jackets, ski gear and other outdoor apparel. (Nicholas Allen/CBC News)

The manufacturing engineer, who has worked for brands like Arc’teryx, says he was told by waste management teams that some waterproof materials, including plastic ones, would be incinerated because they couldn’t be recycled.

“If this material cannot be fully recycled,” he said, “the best way is to extend its lifespan.”

Costs range from $15 for simple repairs — small tears that need to be sewn up, for example — to around $200 for more complex repairs requiring specialized techniques.

But Guo says some customers are willing to spend more if an item means something to them.

« Like my mom bought it for me, or I’ve worn it for 10 years, » he said. « It’s a piece of memory. »

Make repairs more accessible

According to a Vancouver-based consultant, demand for clothing repairs is increasing among shoppers.

More than half of consumers, for example, say brands need to play a bigger role in reducing fashion’s environmental impact, notes online consignment store ThredUp.

« There is… this bubbling of awareness, but we still have a complete lack of accessibility or understanding of how to actually take the concrete steps to access these [repairs] services,” said Devon of Balasi Brown.

Although seamstresses and cobblers have always existed — Metro Vancouver has more than a dozen shoe alteration and repair shops — some say they want these services to be easier to access.

A pile of discarded clothes of different shapes and colors.
Discarded clothing and textiles are depicted. In Metro Vancouver, residents throw away an average of eight kilograms of clothing per person each year. (infiksjournal/Shutterstock)

« The whole repair economy is the next thing…in the circular economy, » said Jiaying Zhao, an associate professor of psychology, referring to the framework in which items are repurposed, refurbished, repurposed, repaired or recycled, so that nothing is wasted.

« I just think services, repairs are not widespread. »

Zhao, who studies behavior change toward sustainability at the University of British Columbia, says people would be more likely to mend their clothes if services were more widely available and accessible.

It’s a problem de Balasi Brown says he wants to solve by partnering directly with retailers.

This month, he founded Spruce Circularity, a subscription program for brands that offer apparel repairs and refurbishments, freeing them from creating and operating these services in-house.

Hands belonging to someone in a striped shirt sew a red garment.
A person is photographed sewing a fabric. Consultant Devon de Balasi Brown said he founded Spruce Circularity to help brands make repairs easier for customers. (leungchopan/Shutterstock)

“It all comes down to making it practical,” he said.

« There’s just no way we can continue the way we are in terms of the amount of waste we create as a society. »

Repairs as a hobby

Even though they help others, the founders of Awl Together say it’s just as important to learn how to mend our own clothes.

A person in a workshop sits behind a sewing machine and repairs a garment.
Ariss Grutter, one of the co-owners of Awl Together Leather, is pictured in front of a sewing machine in his East Vancouver studio. They say fixing clothes is not just a service but a skill anyone can learn. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

« It’s something you can do yourself if you’re looking for a new career or even just a fun new hobby at home, » said co-founder Ariss Grutter.

« People repairing their own clothes at home, mending their own socks…that’s important too. It’s part of the repair economy that keeps things from ending up in the landfill. «


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