The acknowledged founder of the Circular Economy concept, Walter Stahel, always argues that two things are far more important.

  1. Design items to last longer
  2. Repair them to last even longer

The longer goods last, the less you are dipping into the planet’s limited resources and, in items such as footwear, an extra year from a pair of shoes makes an enormous difference across a country or a continent. Then being able to repair them is huge in planetary savings. Stahel suggested in a major paper that 70% of emissions could be saved in this way, and repair would employ 4% of the working population in jobs not easily replaced by robots.

Around Europe in many ancient cities there still exist historic indoor markets which look perfect spots to utilise for repair shops. I do not mean the wealthy Galleries to be found in Milan, Paris and London. While wonderful these are mostly dedicated to the modern luxury goods business. The community markets, like the one in Tenby in Wales I visited this week, are small, community places where you can buy a bowl of soup for lunch and search little stores for all sorts of craft items. Around for hundreds of years they remain everyday community places.

Shoe makers need to sponsor and promote repair shops

If we want leather to make a comeback, then we need all stakeholders to contribute to the Leather Naturally campaign, so it can launch promptly and keep going for many years. And for anyone making leather footwear, they should feel a duty to establish or support a cobbler. All these markets should have one, along with many other locations. In Tenby, Dai-the-Boot is to be found in the Old Market Hall, and from the traffic we observed is busy. Throughout the world we need similar stores to become commonplace and work to be done to establish apprenticeships and support them. Could staff from the footwear plant move into repair for a few years and then swap back, extending skills and keeping them current? 

They need promotion and certain degree of subsidy, so that consumers always go for repair before careless disposal and replacement with cheaper footwear. Longevity, product care and maintenance, and then repair implies a true understanding of value, or origins and the reality of sustainability against a world of unsustainable fast-fashion.

Dr Mike Redwood

February 26, 2019

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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