I was walking in a puddle. Not the puddle outside, the one that had risen up through the holes in my boots and was flooding my ankles. My mother was visiting, so I didn’t complain— instead I insisted on pretending to be more together and adult than I was. She saw right through it. “Nothing we can’t repair. Let’s get those fixed,” she said, and I was shocked. My mother, who owns more designer clothes than I can count and judges my H&M wardrobe. Who loves nothing more than buying clothes, wanted to fix old ones. “Come on, they’re nice boots,” she insisted. “Where’s your cobbler?” Like I had a cobbler.
She was right to make me find one. The boots were some of the most high-quality things I owned and I loved them, hence the wearing them through times of internal flooding. And for 20 pounds we replaced the soles and the boots lived for years after.
Changing The Mindset
It embarrassed me that it had never occurred to me to get them fixed. Of course it made more sense to have them repaired. It made more sense for me, for the environment, for the lack of space in my tiny London flat. But I didn’t grow up getting things repaired and, I’m sort of ashamed to admit, I just didn’t think of it.
But I don’t think it’s just me. We’ve lost touch with the art of repair. We prefer disposability. Not only does disposability mean that we get something shiny and new— and a tiny rush of endorphins to help us forget our student loan debt— it’s convenience. Let’s not forget that cereal sales are down because we’re all too lazy to wash a damn bowl after breakfast. Compared to washing a bowl, finding a cobbler is a huge commitment.
We need to get back to repair, to sustainability. Not for some hipster aesthetic, but to lower consumption and emission levels. And there are movements toward that. The Swedish government, for example, has introduced tax breaks on repairs, on everything from bicycles to appliances, in attempt to encourage people to repair rather than re-buy. “I believe there is a shift in view in Sweden at the moment,” Per Bolund, Sweden’s minister for financial markets and consumer affairs and one of six Green party cabinet members, explained. “There is an increased knowledge that we need to make our things last longer in order to reduce materials’ consumption.” It’s a great message— but it’s not enough.
The Impediments To Investment
Part of the problem is the convenience and pleasure of disposability, but it’s more than that. I could only get those boots fixed because they were a present from my mother from a few years before. They were far nicer than anything I would buy myself. Any of the shoes I buy myself, all cheap, plasticine nightmares, wouldn’t be high quality enough to be repaired in the first place.
We invest money in huge amounts of clothing that are so cheap they’re unfixable. I felt smug about getting a pair of jean stitched up where the seams had busted. At least, until the fabric in the seat disintegrated into mesh about two weeks later. We’re in a cycle of consuming because we can’t afford that 70 dollar shirt that can be stitched up if needed, instead we buy a seven dollar top that basically spontaneously combusts after three washes.
There are ways to break the cycle. If you have the means, try to hold off and invest in higher quality items. But if you don’t have the means, recycle and upcycling can be a huge help. The nicest piece of furniture in my flat is a solid wooden table— it was also the cheapest. Someone was throwing it out and my partner gave them 20 pounds for it. It’ll probably outlive us all.
We need more incentives to invest in high-quality goods— and a lot of us need more money to be able to do it. In the meantime, look toward recycling and reusing. Don’t be afraid to find things secondhand that can stand the test of time. And for the love of god, find a cobbler.