When you look at a brand new GORE-TEX jacket, what do you see in your mind’s eye? Do you imagine yourself climbing the last few feet to the top of a snow-capped mountain, the jacket’s easily-adjustable hood fitting snugly around your face? Or do you imagine the jacket in a landfill site in a few decades’ time, stubbornly refusing to biodegrade because its waterproof shell is made from an unreactive polymer called polytetrafluoroethene? Do you imagine the jacket keeping you miraculously dry as you walk an exposed stretch of coastline in the teeth of a winter storm? Or do you think of how all the carbon burned in its manufacture and transportation will contribute to climate change, causing extreme weather events to become more common in the future?
Most of the companies that make these jackets would rather you imagined yourself either happy on a mountain or dry in a rainstorm; their marketing strategies tend to be built around getting consumers to equate their products with wholesome activities in areas of pristine wilderness, not with the industrial processes involved in making them.
To their credit, some of these companies do at least try to make people aware of the ecological footprint of the products they sell, and then, of course, there’s the US brand Patagonia, famous for taking corporate responsibility to a whole new level with its “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign of a few years ago.
The intention of those ads wasn’t necessarily to stop people buying Patagonia products altogether, but to make them think more carefully about what they do buy, and about how they take care of the gear they already own. The ads grew out of Patagonia’s so-called Common Threads initiative, which encourages people to do four things: reduce the amount of stuff they buy, take better care of the stuff they own, share stuff they no longer need with other people and finally – when an item is really beyond repair – recycle it responsibly. Cynics will no doubt sneer at this ethical manifesto, particularly the bit that says “Repair: We help you repair your Patagonia gear, you pledge to fix what’s broken,” but the folks at Patagonia are nothing if not true to their word. Not only is it possible to send damaged gear to Patagonia for repair (“repairs due to normal wear and tear will be charged a fair price” says the website) they are now offering free workshops for people interested in learning how to fix their own stuff.
Patagnoia’s Worn Wear tour will visit a total of six sites around Scotland this winter, with Aviemore, Aberdeen, Perth, Glasgow and Edinburgh all on the itinerary. Experts will be on hand to offer free repairs of damaged clothing (regardless of brand) and to teach people how to mend their own, from re-waterproofing shells to fixing broken zips and buttons.
Does any of this matter in the grand scheme of things? True, the handful of workshops Patagonia are holding in Scotland this winter (among a total of 28 they’re putting on throughout Europe) are hardly going to make a difference in themselves, but they could conceivably help sow the seeds of a cultural shift. In addition to the obvious ecological arguments for doing things the Patagonia way, there’s also a good economic argument: if you buy high-quality gear less often but look after it properly, you should end up spending less money in the long run than if you regularly buy cheap, badly-made gear that keeps falling to bits.
Perhaps the most powerful argument for making do and mending, however, is to be found in Japan, in the art form known as Kintsugi, literally “golden joinery,” or as Kintsukoroi, “the golden repair”. In the west, we tend to look at an object that has been repaired as somehow diminished, but Kintsugi turns this on its head. The term refers specifically to the process of repairing broken pottery by putting the pieces back together using a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum, and the results of this process are often more beautiful than the original item ever was. The more general philosophy behind Kintsugi, however, is that a repair can become part of the history of an object – and what’s cooler: a brand new jacket without a single mark on it? Or a 20 year-old jacket covered in patches and repairs, each one telling its own story? n
For details of the Patagonia Worn Wear Tour, click here