Yesterday the Patagonia Worn Wear rig made a stop at Warren Wilson College, which is located in nearby Swannanoa, NC, and I was able to drop in to see it in action. The rig, seen above, is actually a mobile clothing repair shop, which is currently touring the country with stops at selected college campuses. Tiny Warren Wilson was lucky to be chosen, as most of the schools on the tour are large universities.
The purpose of the tour is to raise awareness of how clothing repair is an important part of making the production of clothing more sustainable. It seems like an oxymoron for a company like Patagonia, which is in the business of making and selling clothes, to advocate for people keeping their clothing longer. But Patagonia is not the average clothing company.
Patagonia is a producer of outdoor clothing and supplies, and is not a “fashion” company. But all clothing reflects to some degree what is in fashion, either through color, or the length of shorts, or the fit of a tee shirt. As a maker of fleece jackets and down jackets, Patagonia does not rely so much on changing styles in order to sell their products. Instead, they sell garments that are actually needed. Even so, they are working toward educating people that need can be reduced through repairs.
I’ve written about Patagonia before as an example of a company that makes it easy for the consumer to know where and how its products are made. If you go to their website, on the sales page of each product it shows the factories where the product was made, along with a description of the responsible practices of each. It’s about as transparent as it gets in the clothing industry.
The Worn Wear team did on the spot repairs, but even more importantly, they wanted to talk with students (and even non-students like me) about the importance of taking care of one’s clothing to make it last longer. They encouraged visitors to learn the skills necessary to make repairs to damaged clothes to extend their life. And of course, behind the message is the starting point of buying good stuff to start with.
The rig itself is really interesting. It’s made of completely recycled materials and it runs on biodiesel. It’s beautifully constructed, and I imagine they get lots of attention on the highway.
This is Rudy, who guards the thread and keeps the staff on track.
There was even free swag. Besides the organic fruit bar and a small guide to making repairs, there was a shelf of free books, all titles pertaining to environmental and human rights issues. I picked up a copy of Patagonia’s latest report on these initiatives, and spent much of the evening reading about the many things that Patagonia is working toward.
Most interestingly, the book did not back away from the mistakes they have made in the past few years, and gave honest reports on two controversies, the use of down from force-fed geese, and the use of wool from a farm which PETA exposed as being inhumane. In both cases Patagonia did their own investigations, and found they were in the wrong, and then took the necessary steps to correct the abuses.
It’s really refreshing when a group just owns its mistakes. I can’t help but think that this would be a great policy for all.
Currently, a big issue is the discovery that microfibres that get into the water by way of laundry has become a major source of pollution in our oceans. In order to better understand what effect Patagonia fleeces and other products have on this problem, the company conducted a research project in which all their projects were tested for microfibre shedding. They are also funding continuing research in the area.
The issue of sustainability is a tricky one. Most of the programs by clothing companies I have read about are just green-washing, meant to look to be more environmentally friendly than they truly are. Most, like turning in old clothes for a store credit, are just ways of getting one to shop more. And as pointed out in an excellent article at Vestoj, even the way sustainability issues are presented by the fashion press usually misses the point.
Thanks to Patagonia for hosting this tour of the traveling repair workshop. If it happens to roll into a college near you, go and check it out.