Zero-waste profile #3: Repair Matters.

Photo by Jeremy Lee.

Photo by Jeremy Lee.

This article is part of the Starfish-original series, "Strides Towards a Zero-Waste Country", where we highlight the efforts of Canadian organizations working towards integrating circular economy and zero-waste frameworks into everyday life.

Who: Repair Matters

Where: Vancouver area

What: A group of volunteers who will help fix seemingly broken items.

Why: Reduce the impulse to buy new items before investigating repair options

w: | t: @RepairMatters | f: Repair Matters | i: @repairmatters

Have you ever mindlessly thrown away a pair of headphones as soon as they stopped working? When your favourite sweater was destroyed with holes by the neighbour’s cat, was your knee-jerk reaction to immediately buy a brand new one without considering repairs?  

We’ve become so conditioned to follow the if-broken-buy-new trajectory that it can be easy to forgot about the option of fixing what you already have.  Repair Matters is looking to remind Vancouverites that restoring broken (or seemingly broken) items can be cost-effective and fun.

Repair Matters hosts monthly events around Vancouver where people can bring any broken item - ranging from bikes to radios and from coats to jewellery - and connect with volunteer fixers to learn how to fix it. Their primary goal is to create a repair community within Vancouver.

The faces behind ‘Repair Matters’: One goal, different inspirations.

Repair Matters started as a collaboration between Jayde Change and Karen Byskov for their grad project at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, focusing on building community through repair. Jessica Beketa and Shea O’Neil were keen to start a similar project, so they all joined forces to work on the initiative collaboratively. The four women find inspiration in different ways, but all are driven to shift the mainstream perception of waste to focus more on repair and reuse rather than recycling and disposal.

Starting a project, initiative, or event from scratch is always challenging and daunting, especially if the goal is public engagement and community outreach — you have to create something that people will actually want to engage with. At first, the founders say it was overwhelming to get things off the ground and plan the first event, figuring out their unique approach. With time, the group found that the more they talked to others who were also passionate about repairing or fixing, the more confidence they had to organize events bringing people together to repair!

Finding inspiration both locally and internationally.

Repair Matters was inspired by Repair Cafés, which originated in the Netherlands, but have sprung up in other places around the world. They’ve been hugely successful, and now you see a Repair Cafe in almost every major city.  The group was also motivated by Restart Project, a British social enterprise that encourages longevity in electronics through sharing repair and maintenance skills. Constantly inspired by fixers, such as parents, the cobbler down the street, and anyone who likes to get their hands dirty and problem solve. We define these kind of people as ‘Repair Heroes’, who either have a passion for tinkering or have made a career out of repair. Having little knowledge of fixing ourselves, we wanted to learn more and we wanted to learn from Repair Heroes and allow other people to learn from them too.

Advice for other repair-savvy groups.

  • Find collaborators! Getting together as a group to plan events and working together with other organizations and individuals makes things more fun - and a lot easier in the long-run.

  • Be volunteer-based and volunteer-run! If you and your team are interested in teaching people how to repair, make this your passion project, and find people who are willing to volunteer their time to teach others and be involved in repair projects with you. The people working with Repair Matters who define themselves as ‘Repair Heroes’ are passionate about problem solving towards repair and are willing to volunteer their time because it's something they enjoy doing.

  • Build your network! Take time to meet people in your community, find like-minded organizations, people who are passionate about repairing, and start creating a list of potential partners and interested ‘Repair Heroes’.

  • Get a little startup money! Repair Matters has kept things moving with $600 in the bank, and are using these funds for printing newsletter and booking venues.  Keep your eyes open for grants and other means of funding.

  • Engage people online! Repair Matters has done a great job with engaging people through blog posts and mindful social media messages.

  • Keep your events free! This is super important in order to engage a broader audience. Keeping events open and free encourages anyone and everyone to join in. For Repair Matters, their objective is to repair as many things as possible, which is much easier when events are free for all.

Repair Matters hopes to raise awareness about reuse and repair as even better alternatives to recycling and disposal. Living in this world of ‘buy-break-dispose’ isn’t sustainable, and it also  encourages enormous amounts of waste. The focus here is on shifting the solution from being about recycling to being about longevity.

Become a repair master!

  • The next time you have something broken in your house, try to fix it before disposing of it! Crack it open, tinker around, see what you can do yourself, or invite friends over and make a night of it.

  • Attend a Repair Cafe or Restart Party in a neighbourhood near you, or, if you’re in Vancouver, come out to one of our events!

  • For electronics, is an amazing resource!

  • For other things, you’d be surprised at how many repair shops still exist around town, you may have to look for them, but they’re there!

  • Also, the next time you want to throw something away, think about what you’ll purchase to replace it—consider quality over price and longevity over instant gratification. Think of recycling as the absolute last step in a product’s life—try everything else first.