Andin early 2020 Claire Catterall, senior curator at Somerset House in London, began exploring the potential of a mending exhibition. Inspired by the proliferation of social media hashtags #visiblemending and #mendingmatters and pop-up repair bars, she’s observed a new generation of thrifty fashionistas who want to preserve clothes using traditional methods and contemporary creativity.
“There was a growing interest in the repair trade,” recalls Catterall. “Artists like Celia Pym and Bridget Harvey led an artistic approach to the process and the mending seemed relevant to all conversations about sustainability.”
An evolution of that initial vision, Eternally Yours: An Exhibition on Care, Repair and Healing, opened at Somerset House last week. “Like many people, I was fired during the pandemic and it was quite a shocking experience. The ideas of reparation and healing have merged, focusing on the duty of care we have towards our community, ourselves, the planet and our possessions, ”says Catterall. This has fueled the idea of visible reparation: an approach to reparation in which trauma or damage becomes part of the story: in people, in objects or in clothing. “
It’s a timely opening, which comes like that of BBC TV Repair shop attracts more than 7 million viewers per episode. The show combines specialized skills in the restoration of broken objects with the personal stories of their owners. It’s comforting television in turbulent times, which Catterall believes resonates in a world emerging from a pandemic and traumatized by conflict. “It ties into the idea of care,” he says. “I love the word ‘fix’ – it’s about healing and the therapeutic awareness of fixing something.”
As part of the exhibition, the fashion brand Toast offers workshops on repair skills. Company repair specialist Jessica Smulders-Cohen says, “Repair is about the journey, not restoring the impossible perfection of the new.”
Toast began offering sessions in 2018, teaching clients Japanese sewing techniques such as boron, sings And sashiko for the repair of fabric garments, to then expand to the mending of knitwear. The online sessions continued in lockdown. To date, more than 7,000 people have attended and the brand now offers a free mending service for its own brand garments.
“We now have seven refurbishment centers in stores in England and Scotland,” says Madeleine Michell, Toast’s head of social awareness. “Since April 2021, our specialists have repaired over 1,800 garments, often using surplus materials from our manufacturing process. Last February, all of our shop windows featured repaired garments, inspiring customers to bring in precious pieces for some loving care. “
Where previous generations have repaired as discreetly as possible, perhaps embarrassed by enforced thrift, the new wave repairers use a more decorative style of “visible mending”. Flora Collingwood Norris, a knitwear designer based in the Scottish Borders, reports a growing demand for her colorful visible darning service. She is an idea she started as a teenager, buying cashmere sweaters at charity stores, then embellishing any damage with needle and thread.
“I see a hole as an opportunity,” he says. “It forces me to be creative and think about the size, position and context of the garment, so I play with yarn textures, colors and a combination of traditional darning techniques, patches and embroidery to elevate it to a new design element. Anyone can do it – it’s affordable and accessible. Giving garments a unique quality and a new chapter brings great satisfaction “.
Although Collingwood Norris will repair items for a fee, she has also published a book, offers Zoom workshops and downloadable video tutorials, and sells materials for those looking to repair themselves – and this is the area where she has seen it grow recently. Bookstores are full of titles like Joyful healing, Fix the issues, The art of repair And Modern repairwhile YouTube offers a wide range of tutorials for those looking to learn how to mend, mend, and mend on their own.
Given widespread supply chain problems and the cost of living crisis, many are being pushed to “fend for themselves” in a way not seen since the 1940s. There is, perhaps, a disconnect between mending as a necessity and repair as a fashionable badge of honor – between someone struggling to keep a school sweater from falling apart and the fashionista using seams to cover a hole in moth in a designer garment – but it might start to reduce stigma. It could also hint at the possibility of throwing away fast fashion clothes and the 300,000 tons of clothes that go to landfill every year in the UK.
A growing number of companies, including Mulberry, Barbour, and Uniqlo, have in-house repairs and other brands partner with third-party repair specialists. The Restory offers quality repairs of designer garments, directly to consumers or in collaboration with brands such as Manolo Blahnik and retailers such as Farfetch, Selfridges and Harrods.
“We want customers to fall in love with their favorite things again, whether that means restoring the color on a faded bag or repairing tears, holes, scrapes and other damage,” says founder and CEO Vanessa Jacobs, a New Yorker now living. in London, who came up with the idea for Restory after receiving poor service when she brought a favorite pair of shoes to a high street repair chain. “After-sales service is the largest market you have never seen. It is worth $ 100 billion, but it has not been digitized and optimized to meet modern needs. We launched in 2017 and had 60,000 repairs done last year. The technological and logistics infrastructure is advanced and growth is rapid. Great Britain and continental Europe are our biggest markets, although at the moment everything is done outside the UK and we are talking to major players in the US with the aim of operating there too. “
Repair may have the potential to make a lot of money for some, but it could also help heal the planet and its people. As artist Bridget Harvey states in her Manifesto for Making at Somerset House: “The contemporary repairman demonstrates not only a care for the past, but also an attitude firmly rooted in the future”.