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Why Repair Services Are a Growing Business

Brands are stepping up in-store offerings and investors have bet millions on start-ups in the space as interest in sustainability and resale boosts demand to keep clothes in good condition for longer.
A flat-lay arrangement of clothes, shoes and accessories against a white background, with pairs of hands shown to be repairing some of the items.
Consumer interest in sustainability and resale is driving demand for repair and restoration services. (The Seam)

Key insights

  • Consumer interest in sustainability is helping to drive demand for clothing repairs.
  • Investors have put millions into start-ups in the space in the last year, while a growing number of brands are introducing repair services.
  • Creating a scalable and profitable repairs business requires overcoming tricky and costly logistical and workforce challenges.

Fashion is often all about what’s new, but an emerging group of start-ups and investors is betting on a market for reviving what’s old.

The unglamorous business of repairs and alterations is attracting fresh interest, fuelled by mounting consumer engagement in sustainability, regulatory moves aimed at curbing the rise of throwaway fashion and the growth of retail models like rental and resale that encourage clothes to be kept in good condition for longer.

Tech platforms aimed at helping brands and consumers rejuvenate old clothes and battered handbags have attracted millions of dollars in investment over the last 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 £4.2 million (about $5.1 million) to date, most recently closing a funding round in September.

Though luxury labels have quietly offered repairs as part of their service for years, a growing number of brands are stepping into the space. Mass-market retailer Uniqlo launched repairs and alterations at stores in London and New York earlier this year, part of a wider sustainability push. Handbag-maker Coach introduced a one-year training programme focused on leather repair and restoration in January, promoting it as part of a broader effort to keep its products out of landfills.

“Repair is a really fantastic and untapped opportunity,” said Sojo founder and chief executive Josephine Philips. “Building a repair programme is not only great in terms of longevity of the items that you create, but it’s actually incredible when it comes to building brand value as well.”

More Than Just Repairs

Start-ups operating in the space are aiming to solve a simple challenge: consumers want convenient ways to revive well-loved garments, but most don’t know where to go to find those services.

London-based repairs and tailoring platform The Seam has built a network of some 2,500 garment-makers across the UK with a range of specialisms, such as leather goods or suiting.

The company has facilitated some 10,000 repairs and alterations and reported a 20 percent month-on-month increase in customers since it launched in 2020. The average customer on the platform, which also offers custom projects like embroidery and bespoke tailoring, spends £55 per booking and uses it four times a year, founder and chief executive Layla Sargent said.

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 alteration services.

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

“I think a lot of the brands will start paying for that, because returns are extremely costly for them,” she said.

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

“We’ve been able to advise some of our key brands on significant changes that they should be making to the manufacturing process of certain garments,” said The Seam’s Sargent. Recent examples include an outerwear brand that had used a zipper unsuited to the weight of fabric for a particular jacket, and an athleisure company whose leggings frequently ripped along the inseam.

“Previously, the brand would never have known that,” Sargent said. “Once the leggings go out there into the ecosystem, nobody knows really what happens.”

Scaling to Match Demand

While the space is attracting investment, companies face significant challenges to scale. Repair services involve tricky logistics, complicated infrastructure and require access to a skilled workforce that is at best fragmented and at worst nonexistent.

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

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

Lucrative partnerships with brands and retailers are one way repair services are seeking to turbocharge growth and market penetration. Save Your Wardrobe, for instance, has signed a multi-year contract with German online retailer Zalando, which aims to extend 50 million garments’ lives by 2023. But emerging platforms also need to develop the operational muscle to support such expansion — a challenge in many consumer markets that have long outsourced clothing manufacturing to far-flung corners of the world.

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

Then there is the issue of consumer expectations, where the rise of fast fashion has helped normalise 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 be servicing Shein? Probably not,” said Vanessa Jacobs, co-founder and chief executive of The Restory.

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