Second Life: Hitting the Road with Patagonia’s Worn Wear Tour
From clothing and shoes to appliances and tools, many companies offer lifetime warranties on their products, but most of the time it involves trashing the old and replacing with a brand new one. Taking their lifetime warranty a step further, Patagonia recently launched their Worn Wear initiative, which not only backs up their own lifetime warranty, but helps recycle product back into use after it’s been cleaned and repaired. While in practice this seems simple, it’s more complicated than it sounds, and the company has invested quite a bit of time and energy perfecting the process and educating customers.
One of the ways they spread the word is through their Worn Wear tour, which visits ski resorts, college campuses and other events around the country in their custom-made mobile repair shop. Once on location, their team of techs has the tools and know-how to repair just about anything people can bring by, in an effort to extend the life of products many people grow to hold dear. From patching burn holes in down jackets, replacing zippers and encouraging “repair” over “replace”, Patagonia is leading the charge in environmental friendliness. We had a chance to talk with Worn Wear tour manager and all around great dude, Brandon Richards, about how Worn Wear got started, some stories of life on the road and a couple tips for repairing gear at home.
How did Worn Wear start and what’s the purpose behind the program?
The inspiration and seeds of Worn Wear were planted in 2005 as the Common Threads Recycling Program. This was Patagonia’s effort to take back all 100% polyester garments for closed-loop, chemical recycling and use the output of the process—100% recycled yarn—as a raw material for new clothing. This realization led us to expand Common Threads from a recycling program to a mutual partnership with our customers to take full responsibility for the stuff we make and they purchase—including repairing and reusing garments before recycling them.
In 2011, Common Threads Recycling re-launched as the Common Threads Partnership with a New York Times ad on Black Friday that carried the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket” and suggested to only buy what your truly need and then care of it. Over the next few years, a blog called Worn Wear was developed by Lauren and Keith Malloy that celebrated the relationship with the garments we love. The value stories have to make us feel is far greater than preaching an ethos, so we joined forces to make Worn Wear about repairing, reusing, recycling and celebrating the stories we wear.
You have the online store and the in-store exchange policy, how does the Worn Wear tour play into the overall plan?
Wornwear.com is a site we launched in 2017 where we buy back slightly used Patagonia clothing from customers. People bring their gear back to our stores and if those garments are in good condition, we buy and issue them a gift card for those items. We then wash and clean those garments with a waterless CO2 machine, photograph the items and post them up on the site where people can shop almost-new and vintage Patagonia items at a fraction of the cost.
The Patagonia Iron Clad Guarantee is us guaranteeing everything we make. If you’re not satisfied with one of our products at the time you receive it, or if one of our products does not perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought it from or to Patagonia for a repair, replacement or refund. Damage due to wear and tear will be repaired at a reasonable charge.
You don’t just repair Patagonia gear, but gear from other companies as well. Does this come as a surprise to people and what is the reasoning behind that?
On the Worn Wear tour, we will fix ANY brand of clothing for FREE to keep items in use longer and out of the landfill. At our daily events, we educate people and teach simpler techniques and ways to fix their own stuff. It does come as a surprise to most people and they think we are messing with when we tell them it’s free for any brand. Patagonia has produced a lot of clothing and gear over the years, and this is our way of giving back to support what is already out in the market.
What’s one of the more common repairs you see come through while on tour?
Oh man, I would have to say burn holes or smaller holes where their jacket got snagged on something. Luckily those are one of the easiest repairs to fix. We use this repair tape called, Tenacious Tape designed by Gear Aid. It’s basically a super sticky weatherproof tape that you can use to fix sleeping bags, tents, clothing and down jackets. Our techs also do amazing work on bringing some of the most destroyed and haggard clothing back to life in true Worn Wear fashion.
Can you tell us about a memorable experience from one of the tour stops?
Being on the road most of the year you get the whole salad bar of “Memorable Road Experiences.” You have the occasional breakdown and roadside repair in the rain, excited people that bang on your window in the middle of the night at a gas station looking for a sticker, interesting lodging locations, people driving in your blind spot trying to take photos of the truck and some rad old hippies telling you, “they used to live in a truck like that.”
I would have to say one of the most memorable moments was when we teamed up with the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in NYC. This business man in a fancy suit rolls up, sees what we’re doing and asks if we can fix his pants. “Of course we can,” we tell him. So he puts his briefcase down, takes his pants off and hands them to our Tech. We told him it would take about 15 minutes to complete the repair. He nods his head, picks up his briefcase and walks off. Fifteen minutes later he shows back up in his fancy shoes, boxers, sport coat and tie. He checked out the repair, said “thanks,” put his pants back on, and off he went to close some deals or whatever. I’m still not sure where he went to hang out for those 15 minutes with only a sport coat, boxers and a briefcase.
Why do you think people develop such a close relationship to their gear?
When we’re out on the road we hear so many amazing stories about the adventures people have been on with their gear. What we have realized is when you find something that fits, is built well and it performs for whatever you’re using it for, then you begin to rely on it. As you use it more it becomes an extension of you, but out on those adventures it starts to get scuffed up, burned or torn. Each of those scuffs becomes a bookmark to those moments, and the adventures you were on and who you were with.
What’s the easiest thing someone can do themselves to repair or give more life to a garment?
That’s a hard one because each repair is different, so it would be a case-by-case scenario. It’s always a good idea to have Tenacious Tape with you in case you get a snag or a hole, then you can fix it on the spot. If it’s a technical ski/snowboard coat, look at the washing instructions and consider re-waterproofing it.
The best thing to do is, before ever buying anything, is to do some research. Find something built/designed well and comes with a good warranty. Even if it is more expensive, it will be worth the investment on the frontend to buy something well-built instead of buying the same thing over and over.
Lots of brands or people would think Patagonia is crazy to encourage people to buy less gear, what would you say to them?
It takes a lot of “new things” to make “new things” and there is never going to be a person or brand that is perfect. But, if we can start being more responsible about how we source, produce, and support products already in the market, along with constantly looking for new innovative solutions for future products, we can hopefully protect and preserve all those places we play for us and future generations.
You are joined on tour by the famous @rudybeargoeseverywhere, what is his involvement in the tour and what are his favorite things to do at each stop?
Hahaha, Rudy is the real Tour Manager. He keeps us all on time and in line on the road. He is more like a miniature Buddha covered in hair. His favorite things to do on tour are eat, sleep, lay in the sun and beg for bacon. The beast loves bacon!
Follow @wornwear for more photos and stories from the road, and to learn about upcoming events