Inside the SoHo flagship of Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo in NYC is the company’s newest sustainability initiative. For $5, Uniqlo’s alterations staff will repair any Uniqlo piece of clothing brought into the store.
The repair studio opened on January 27, taking up a small corner of the ground floor of the store. Customers can get buttons and zippers replaced, holes patched, and seams mended, in order to keep the clothes wearable for as long as possible. The new studio is part of Uniqlo’s Re:Uniqlo program, a group of projects all focused on circular fashion. Through the program, Uniqlo collects old products from consumers and recycles the fibers into new products.
The idea of circular fashion, or increasing a product’s lifecycle through reselling, recycling and reusing products, is becoming a dominant tactic among brands attempting to be more sustainable. While recycling and reselling are popular and flashy, offering repairs is a simpler way to make an impact. While luxury brands like Dior and Chanel have offered repairs for decades, mainstream brands like Uniqlo, Arc’teryx and Madewell have all begun offering quick repair services in-store in the last six months. For Uniqlo, repairs are an essential part of circular fashion.
“[This project] comes from our Japanese values of simplicity, quality and longevity,” said Daisuke Tsukagoshi, CEO of Uniqlo USA. “We are proud to offer our newest service at our oldest store in the U.S., helping to give our customers’ favorite items an even longer life, benefitting both the wearer and the environment.”
Uniqlo promoted the repair studio on its social accounts with a short film showcasing the repair process. The brand intends to make repairs a larger part of its Re:Uniqlo program, but hasn’t yet announced plans to bring repair studios to more stores.
Part of the appeal of repairs is that they are relatively inexpensive and simple, compared to the more complex process of recycling old products into new ones. The recycling process, as detailed by The Balance Small Business, includes sorting and grading products by reusability, color and material, removing all buttons and zippers, shredding the products into fibers and recompressing them into new materials.
Usually, this means using specialized recycling equipment that most brands don’t have internally, according to Diana Verde Nieto, founder of Positive Luxury, a brand consultancy focused on sustainable fashion. The process is slow and labor-intensive, according to a 2020 academic study on clothing recycling. Repairs require little in the way of special equipment, however hiring skilled employees to fix the clothes is one associated challenge and expense.
“Repairs do not require the same level of investment, while still extending the lifecycle of the product,” Nieto said.
In other words, you get more bang for your buck by repairing clothes than by shredding them down to remake them. Uniqlo, which recycles old products into new ones in addition to offering repairs, declined to disclose the costs associated with recycling.
According to Nieto, the rise of in-store repairs is driven, in part, by resale. When customers can resell clothes that they buy, it changes how they view their items. They’re not just consumable products, but rather investments that can be resold at a later date. If someone buys something with a plan to resell it in the future, then taking care of it and repairing it when it’s damaged becomes a natural part of ensuring it maintains its value.
Repairs are changing the way brands are manufacturing their clothes, too. When Arc’teryx opened its first repair center on Broadway in Manhattan in November, Dominique Showers, vp of recommerce at Arc’teryx, told Glossy that the brand’s product team is making clothes to be modular and more easily repairable.
“Designing for repairability is a big ethos for us,” Showers said. “Our advanced concept team and the R&D team are always looking at ways to redesign our products so they’re more easily mendable. It’s top of mind for the team right now. For designers, the question is: How do I make this sustainable in the long run?”