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Can Repair Revolution Teach Consumers To Mend Their Wasteful Ways?

Jamie Facciola talks about her quest to get people who are hooked on disposable goods to fix, not ditch, their broken stuff.

Can Repair Revolution Teach Consumers To Mend Their Wasteful Ways?
[Photo: Flickr user Martin Lindstrom]

Stop. Wait. Don’t ditch that old bicycle with the drooping chain just yet. Instead, bust out your toolbox and get busy tightening up the gears.

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That’s what Jaime Facciola would want. A former corporate sustainability executive, Facciola is the founder of Repair Revolution, an organization based in Oakland, California that was formed in opposition to the planned obsolescence built into tech products constantly dropping from Silicon Valley. Facciola’s company, which she launched in the fall of 2015, takes your broken stuff—clothes, furniture, televisions, you name it—and outsources it to local expert fixers. As the group says on its website, “Buy what you love. Fix what you buy. Love what you fix.”

Jaime Facciola

Facciola believes this “circular economy” helps keep things “at their highest function for as long as possible.” It’s an idea that’s catching on. The popularity of the informal gatherings known as repair cafes is growing. By Facciola’s count, there are now about 1,100 such places in more than 30 countries.

Even governments are getting on board. “Scotland has thrown around the idea of setting up repair [goals], as part of the EU’s Circular Economy Package,” she says. To learn more about this burgeoning revolution, we called Facciola on an iPhone 6 that we hope to keep using for many years to come.

Fast Company: How does Repair Revolution work as a business?

Jaime Facciola: The vision was always that it’d be a repair salon. When I go to a hair salon, I’m always excited. I know I am going to feel better when I leave. I love that feeling. I thought, “Man, if we really loved our stuff, we should have that sensation when we get it fixed.” Right now, repair shops are just these dingy, dungy man dens. Repair right now isn’t convenient; it hasn’t been modernized.

FC: You’re talking about shifting consumer attitudes on a large scale—which seems really hard.

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JF: Right now our economic structure is really just built by surveying the cost. Everything is based on the bottom line and the least cost, and that does not fully account for the true cost of things. If we were actually paying the true cost of pretty much anything—shoes, oil, clothes, food—things wouldn’t be as inexpensive as they are.  And that’s not entirely a bad thing if that means that we are producing more quality goods with quality jobs, and people are taking better, longer care of the things they own, and they respect those things because it took more to get them.

FC: With all the talk of bringing jobs back to the U.S. lately, is there a way for this kind of thinking to be part of that conversation?

JF: Repair is a huge part of the economy that’s disappearing. I’m certain that within 10 years there won’t be any of these tiny little shops left. The owners’ kids don’t want to take them over. Nobody wants to be a repairman, and that’s a big aspect of what Repair Revolution is trying to do: change the narrative. Repair is a skilled job, and we can bring that integrity back, in the way that we’ve done with makers.

FC: It does seem like this fits in the age of artisanal everything.

JF: Right? We love homemade stuff. We love locally sourced stuff. When I go to [repair] shops, they are not dead; they are slammed. That was one of my key learning points. The ones that remain are actually doing great business. They all complain that they’re not making enough money, and I don’t think the public is going to pay much because things are already so cheap. That just depresses the whole system. But there is not a shortage of demand.

FC: Eventually, though, every product dies for good.

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JF: Things have to be designed in a certain way, not full of gross toxic stuff, and they can be made into other stuff. In the natural world there’s no such thing as waste. Everything becomes something else. It’s a crazy idea that we produce things that have no other use than going to a landfill. Someday we’ll look back in embarrassment that we ever thought this was going to be a sustainable approach.

FC: How do ideas like this gain traction in a place ruled by Silicon Valley and planned obsolescence?

JF: We’ve created such insane expectations of customers. That everything can be delivered…by tomorrow. That you no longer need to actually talk to the person you’re buying something from. And repair is counter to all of that. Everything is repairable, and there is a really cool thing happening right now called visible mending. It’s about celebrating the repair. Why are we always trying to hide it? Why is this not a badge of honor?

FC: So you win consumers’ hearts and minds by improving the optics of the experience?

JF: In my mind that’s the revolution. We need to alter our behavior and our appreciation of reusing our things. It’s related to all those things we do in our regular life: We buy organic and we go to yoga and we try not to smoke and we do all these things. Like, driving a hybrid used to be weird, and now it just makes sense and has become mainstream. I think repair is in an early stage, but can and should and will follow the same pathway as these other behaviors that have become more mainstream.

FC: Good branding helps, of course. You look at something like those Freitag bags. People are proudly wearing truck tarps. And they are super expensive.

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JF: That’s the thing. It’s all connected. The cheaper the goods we buy, the less incentivized we are to fix them and the more expensive it appears to fix them because we are charging living wage labor to fix things that we never paid the true cost for. We didn’t account for the shipping, we didn’t account for the pollution, we didn’t account for the human rights. We have built a system that has pretty much usurped repair.

What inspires me is when I look at the food movement and I think, “Holy cow, Walmart now sells organic food!”

FC: You could be the Alice Waters of repair.

JF: That would be so amazing. What I don’t want to lose is the richness that stuff can develop into. There is as much stuff as food. How are we not capitalizing on it? As jobs, as waste reduction, as innovation—economic prosperity can be sold just like food.

FC: I have a 12-year old daughter who won’t buy anything new except for underwear and socks.

JF: She’s, like, my champion. I love her! This is what truly gives me hope. This mindset just skipped some generations. Obviously, all of our grandparents understood this. This was the only way they knew how to be, in many ways because of scarcity. But there is scarcity now, it’s just that the market is perverted and we don’t feel the price signals to let us know when it’s happening.

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