Why You Should Reuse and RepairWritten by Adela Cardona
There is a particular joy in wearing or living amongst things we have inherited from family or friends. These items hold a special place in our hearts and homes, not only for how beautiful they are but also for the stories and memories they hold. Embodied links to the past, these objects could have never been passed down had they not been made to last and be repaired.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for most of the things we get today. A great deal is made to be disposed of quickly and often, taking advantage of an industry-established desire for what’s new.
The issue of disposability
Take the example of our phones. Most of them are not even made to be opened by us anymore. You can’t change their batteries like you could back in the ’00s. And they are designed to become obsolete from the get-go: new software every few months, new charging setups, no instructions for repair.
The same goes for our clothes. Fast fashion has made it so you can buy new styles every week, but at what cost? Threads unravel within a couple of wears and dyes end up going down the drain in the garment’s first few trips to the washing machine.
It’s frustrating because one can no longer enjoy for a long time the things one buys with hard-earned cash. And it doesn’t just affect our wallet and our enjoyment, this culture of disposability also has an impact on the people who make these products and our planet. People are paid poorly and treated terribly, and the waste we are creating has driven us into a climate emergency.
At this point you might be thinking, “Fine, but what can I do about it?” A question we will answer shortly, but first, we need to understand how we got here before we can change our course.
How disposability became the norm
We don’t know exactly when we became a culture of disposability, but it has been linked to the razor, the plastics industry, and both of the world wars. In the case of the razor in the 1900s, Gillette replaced the blade that could last for years, if resharpened, with one that could be removed, tossed, and replaced as soon as it became blunt.
Plastics, which are now one of the most widespread materials used in single-use products like cups and plates, were not meant to be so. According to Dr. Theanne Schiros, in her class for the Slow Factory Open Edu, synthetic plastics came about to replace materials such as ivory or shellac, obtained from elephants and the lac beetle respectively.
The earliest successful effort was made by chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland in 1907 when he invented Bakelite. Made by combining phenol and formaldehyde, this plastic resin was meant to be heat resistant, strong, durable, and malleable; not disposable.
Between the First and Second World Wars, when more synthetic materials like polyester and nylon were invented, the plastics industry saw an opportunity to earn more money by turning their durable material into the new epitome of convenience. The idea was to produce more plastic disposable products, instead of reusable ones. That way, they could bring people to the stores more often.
To pull this off, they started an aggressive marketing campaign that focused on how much more convenient it was, for example, to have a disposable baby bottle that you could easily throw away, than for a housewife to have to clean it time and time again.
This also happened in the automotive industry when, in the 1920s, General Motors started to design and produce their cars in a way that encouraged replacing them more often, allegedly to increase production and job creation amidst the recession.
These examples illustrate how the changes in the quality, design, and speed of production, coupled with the marketing efforts made to change our behaviors of consumption, ensured disposability was aligned with benefits like fewer chores for housewives, efficiency, and progress. It meant people started to value convenience and immediacy over repairability, durability, or reliability. It fundamentally changed the way we behave, buy and use.
But not all is lost. We can still regain control over what we value and how we relate to what we own.
We deserve better
We truly do. We deserve things, like clothes, that are designed to last and be repaired from the get-go. We deserve to form a relationship with them, and the people around us, in a way that is long-lasting and nurturing. We deserve to be able to replace the zipper or buttons on our favorite jacket and find the replacement parts for our cars easily and repair them at a reasonable cost.
But in order to achieve this, brands have to be held accountable for the quality of the products they put into the world, by taking into consideration:
- The materials they use
- The way they assemble their products
- How easy it is to disassemble the product for repair
- How easy it will be to repair by the user themself or to find a repairman
- The potential use it will have and the resources and skills needed for the maintenance
Giving long warranties, repair, and take-back programs, where possible
By choosing to buy from companies that do this, we ensure that we can enjoy our items for longer and support brands that value the work and resources that went onto the products.
And even if an issue as grand as disposability culture cannot be fixed with a one-size-fits-all solution there are somea couple of things we can do:
- “Shop” in our own closet. Look at what you already own with new eyes, you’d be surprised how many new combinations you can achieve with a little creativity. Shop in other people’s houses and wardrobes too: our mom’s, dad’s, friend’s. Swapping and reusing is a great way to give an item a second life.
- Repair. Take clothes to a tailor or shoes to a cobbler or learn how to repair them. You can do this by following Youtube videos or community gatherings like the Repair Cafés.
- Buy products that are made to last and be repaired from the start. Take our shoes, for example, they are made from durable, Gold-Rated certified leather, lasted for 72 hours to hold the shape for longer, and are attached with the Blake stitching method, this means they are easily resoleable when the time comes.
- Reach out to policymakers and grassroots organizations like The Repair Association that dedicates itself “to advocate for repair-friendly policies, regulations, statutes, and standards at the national, state, and local levels”.
- Donate items you no longer want to wear or need. They can be repaired and enjoyed by someone else.
Reuse and repair
Buying fewer better itmes, made to last –instead of a lot of things made to be disposable–, reusing them and repairing them as you go; are simple acts you can make to counter disposibility culture and avoid seding more waste down to ladfills.
We would love to know how you do it: Have you ever repaired any beloved heirloom? Have your ever passed down any items to your family memembers? Drop the stories behind the objects you own and cherish in the comments bellow.
I’m always buying my kids new shoes, they never last very long. I like you mentioned that we deserve clothes and shoes that are designed to last and be repaired. Having shoes that will last and only need to be repaired is really appealing to me.
This is a very compelling article. I enjoyed reading it. Now I need to take action and resole several pairs of shoes in my closet that I still love wearing after more than 20 years. thank you!
I really enjoyed this article. I’ve lately developed a desire to buy items that will last, especially in my clothing and shoes/boots.
I’m very interested in having some heirlooms to pass down to my sons…such as leather boots and leather wallets for example