Fixation with… Worn Wear: Adventures in stitching and patching

The adventures we go on make us who we are, be that urban wanderer or outdoor explorer. In his formative years, Peter Julber scrambled up mountains and rafted down rivers in the wilds of Oregon. He was tough on his gear, and sometimes it just didn’t hold up to the challenge. So he started designing and sewing his own.

worn wearNow Peter runs a repair shop in Santa Cruz, California, mending tents, backpacks and outdoor apparel. But he has particular enthusiasm for being part of the fixing tribe that makes up Worn Wear.

Outdoor outfitter Patagonia started Worn Wear as a way to help people appreciate the value of harder wearing and longer lasting goods. Online, wearers share memories of the places they’ve been and the things they’ve done in their gear, and helpful guides provide advice on everything from fixing zippers to patching holes in waders to washing waterproof jackets.

Offline, well, that’s what really makes Peter light up. Patagonia has offered a free fixing service—part of its ironclad lifetime guarantee—since its founding in 1973, something other apparel brands have been cottoning onto lately. Customers take well-worn items to repair centres and Worn Wear events all over the world, including a custom-made truck that travels across America. They bring their stories with them too.

Incidents with tractors, run-ins with barbed wire fences, close encounters with campfires… some people are embarrassed about the scrapes they’ve got into. But at Worn Wear events, they’re mainly mesmerised watching the process of their stuff being fixed—the whirring of the sewing machine, the bounty of coloured yarns, the zippers, sliders and other odds and ends. Each Patagonia garment has a tag revealing its season and a special code to make sure the mending materials match the original.

The art of the fix

One of Peter’s most memorable adventures in mending featured a down-filled vest with a pinstripe lambs wool exterior sporting a large burnt out hole. Having replaced the inner down, he set off darning the outside with closely matched wool to mimic the existing stripe pattern. “It’s a great feeling when you return something to its owner and you feel their gratitude,” says Peter. “It’s a really unique experience.” Hugs aren’t unusual.

He enjoys the challenge of a nearly imperceptible fix—“repair so you can’t even tell it’s been repaired”. But repair can also be an opportunity for customisation—contrast-colour zippers or multi-coloured patches add to an item’s uniqueness and its story in the owner’s life. Peter’s offers of customisation are met with “oohs” and “ahs” from visitors to Worn Wear events dazzled by the workroom kitted out with spools and patches—a sweet shop for those wanting to indulge in a little creativity. One girl’s down jacket was recently restored with blue, green and orange patches, much to its owner’s delight.

worn wearFred, another member of the Worn Wear community, has taken customisation a step further, using a 30-year-old second-hand Patagonia shirt as a blank canvas. “The idea with painting on clothing,” Fred says, “is that it can be preserved and appreciated longer by turning it into a piece of artwork.” Then there’s Jason, whose first fix inspired him to tell the story of his travels on his jacket, filling it with a growing collection of patches from every place he’s been.

Fixing isn’t just about preserving clothes, but building on them through the stories they hold. And the process of repair is a tale in itself—like using dental floss as a temporary fix while out in the wild. Through Worn Wear, people share (and show) these experiences, learn from each other and create new relationships and lasting memories.

When things are broken, it’s easy to hide (or even throw) them away and avoid the effort needed to bring them back to life—into our lives. But we don’t just wear our clothes, they wear our stories.

Take action

Share this story to help those you know mend the relationship with their clothes.

* Fix something you’ve been neglecting, or thinking about throwing out.

* Look out for creative fixes out and about or online—tag them #thisisthoughtful.