Fashion

Why Repair Services is a Growing Business

Fashion is often synonymous with new, but an emerging group of start-ups and investors are betting on a market to revive what’s old.

The unglamorous business of repairs and alterations is attracting new interest, fueled by growing consumer commitment to sustainability, regulatory measures aimed at curbing the rise of disposable fashions and the growth of retail models at the retail like rental and resale that encourages keeping clothes in good condition for longer.

Tech platforms aimed at helping brands and consumers rejuvenate old clothes and battered handbags have attracted millions of dollars of investment over the past year.

Depop-backed app Sojo, which connects users with local tailors, raised $2.4 million in pre-seed funding in April. Clothing care app Save Your Wardrobe closed a $3 million seed round in June. And high-end repair platform The Restory has raised £4.2m (around $5.1m) to date, most recently closing a funding round in September.

Although luxury brands have been quietly offering repairs as part of their service for years, a growing number of brands are entering the space. Mainstream retailer Uniqlo launched repairs and alterations to stores in London and New York earlier this year, as part of a wider sustainability campaign. Handbag maker Coach launched a year-long training program in January focused on leather repair and restoration, promoting it as part of a wider effort to keep its products out of landfills.

“Repair is a truly fantastic and untapped opportunity,” said Sojo founder and CEO Josephine Philips. “Creating a repair program is not only great in terms of the longevity of the items you create, but it’s also amazing when it comes to creating brand value.”

More than just repairs

Startups operating in the space aim to solve a simple challenge: Consumers want convenient ways to revive beloved clothes, but most don’t know where to go to find those services.

London-based repair and tailoring platform The Seam has built a network of some 2,500 clothing manufacturers across the UK with a range of specialties, such as leather goods or suiting.

The company has facilitated some 10,000 repairs and modifications and has reported a 20% increase in customers month-over-month since its launch in 2020. The platform’s average customer, which also offers projects personalized like embroidery and bespoke tailoring, spends £55 per booking and uses it four times a year, said founder and chief executive Layla Sargent.

Companies like Save Your Wardrobe and Sojo, which offer similar services, are also looking to offer brands and retailers plug-and-play white-label repair and modification services.

With customer returns a long-lasting and increasingly expensive logistical headache for fashion companies, services that improve fit and give shoppers a reason to keep their garments are a compelling business proposition, said Janneke Niessen. , co-founder of leading venture capital firm CapitalT. investor in Sojo’s latest funding round.

“I think a lot of brands are going to start paying for this because returns are extremely expensive for them,” she said.

And repair-focused startups are betting they can add more value by tapping into the data they collect.

“We were able to advise some of our key brands on significant changes they should make to the manufacturing process for certain garments,” said The Seam’s Sargent. Recent examples include an outerwear brand that used a zipper that was unsuitable for the weight of the fabric for a particular jacket, and an athleisure company whose leggings frequently tore along the crotch.

“Previously, the brand would never have known this,” Sargent said. “Once leggings enter the ecosystem, no one really knows what’s going on.”

Scale to meet demand

As the space attracts investment, businesses face significant challenges to scale. Repair services involve delicate logistics, complex infrastructure and require access to a skilled workforce fragmented at best and non-existent at worst.

Ultimately, no amount of digitization and software can change that, said Paul Whitcomb, president of Tersus Solutions, a Colorado-based one-stop-shop for cleaning, refurbishing, repairing, reselling and recycling. clothing company that counts Patagonia and The North Face among its customers.

“The reality is, it’s just a really physical business,” he said. “Anything circular, you’re talking about touching a physical garment and putting it through a process.”

Lucrative partnerships with brands and retailers are a way for repair services to drive growth and market penetration. Save Your Wardrobe, for example, has signed a multi-year deal with German online retailer Zalando, which aims to extend the life of 50 million pieces of clothing by 2023. But emerging platforms also need to build the operational muscle to support such expansion – a challenge in many consumer markets that have long outsourced apparel manufacturing to remote corners of the world.

“I actually think the biggest challenge in this space is realizing that there’s a finite number of individuals that have the skill set,” Philips of Sojo said. For marketplace-like platforms and businesses like Sojo, The Seam, and Save Your Wardrobe, successfully detecting and onboarding new tailors will be crucial to scaling and entering new geographies.

Then there is the question of consumer expectations, where the rise of fast fashion has helped normalize easy access at low prices. In many cases, shoppers simply won’t have paid enough money to invest in repairing their old clothes.

“Are we going to entertain Shein?” Probably not,” said Vanessa Jacobs, founder and CEO of The Restory.

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