A bit of a Japanophile, I’d been looking for the kimono shop listed in my Melbourne guidebook when I came across something even better. Up a dingy stairwell and down a dimly-lit corridor in an old building that could have been the setting for the detective agency in a black-and-white film, a cheerful sign caught my eye: “Haberdashery”.
I poked my head in the door and discovered a tiny wonderland—baskets piled high with soft knitting yarn, walls filled with spools of ribbon and thread in every pattern and colour, strands of bunting hung from the ceiling. My first thought was the same one I always have when I’m surrounded by bolts of fabric and boxes of buttons: “Someday I’m going to learn to make my own clothes.”
Of course my next thought was, “Who am I kidding?” I mean, who has the time for that? And besides, I’ve got enough stuff in my closet. In fact, some things have been languishing in there for years… things I love so much I can’t get rid of them, even though their tiny holes, stubborn stains and missing buttons mean I never wear them.
Then it hit me. Rather than dream about making my own clothes “someday” I should start fixing the ones I have today. I left with a small shopping bag, filled mostly with inspiration and with a conviction I’ve been carrying ever since: as creative people, we need to start fixing, not just making.
Several artists, designers and innovators have started doing just that. In Japan, as it happens, Muneaki Shimode is making a name for himself as the youngest professional practitioner of kintsugi, the traditional art of fixing broken pottery with gold. He draws from the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi which holds that there’s beauty in the old, broken and imperfect. Crockery, vases and other ceramics that have chipped or shattered are put back together in a way that both highlights their life and enhances their look.
Also inspired by traditional Japanese craft, namely boro and sashiko which apply the principles of wabi-sabi to fabric, Dutch artist Tom van Deijnen mends clothes and other textiles using highly-visible darns and patches. He likens these to “a badge of honour.” By artfully bringing attention to the imperfections in a garment, he hopes to persuade people to have longer-lasting relationships with their clothes. The idea is catching on.
Upcycling (that is, reusing an object considered garbage to make something even better) has come a long way since the days when upcycled things looked like they were, well, made of garbage. Rupert Blanchard’s iconic, sought-after sideboards and cupboards are made with salvaged British drawers and timbers. Second Life Toys (that’s Japan again!) harvests the limbs of disused stuffed animals to mend ailing ones while raising awareness of child organ donation.
At the community level, fixing is taking the form of public art. In London, Rowan Durrant has repaired everything from park benches to street signs to drain covers with his signature orange touch. Chicago’s much-hated potholes are no match for Jim Bachor, who patches them up with mosaics featuring universally-loved motifs, like flowers and ice cream.
People from all walks of life are being drawn together to repair everyday objects rather than throw them out and buy new. The Fixers’ Collective in New York holds regular events matching up handypeople with those who need their household stuff—everything from bikes to blenders—repaired. London-based Fixperts films its community’s real-life fixes and posts them online to inspire others.
The kimono shop from the guidebook was closed. But the next day, rummaging through the stalls at the Queen Victoria Market, I found a second-hand kimono with an intricate gold and pink silk pattern. A few faint stains in the lining made me wonder who it had belonged to, and a couple of small holes sealed the deal… now I don’t just have a robe, I have a canvas for the first of many fixes.