Patagonia launches cross-country mobile repair tour

Patagonia takes its 'if it's broke, fix it' mantra to the masses with six-week, 20-stop cross-country tour

Bring me your ripped seams, your campfire burn holes and your busted zippers yearning to breathe free.

That's essentially what Patagonia is asking -- all across America -- for the next six weeks.

Although the company has long offered a lifetime repair guarantee for its goods, it's now putting that promise where the rubber meets the road – literally – by launching a mobile repair truck that will kick off a cross-country journey in San Francisco on Saturday, and make 20 stops in 15 cities, ending in Boston on May 12.

And the company isn’t just offering on-the-spot fix-its for Patagonia pieces either – the offer stands for any piece of clothing -- regardless of brand.

On Thursday the company did a test run -- in the parking lot of its corporate headquarters in Ventura -- for employees and a handful of journalists. The focal point of the affair was a converted biodiesel truck -- topped with a solar-powered camper shell made from salvaged redwood wine barrels -- created by artist/surfer Jay Nelson.

Sitting behind two sewing machines inside were Cathy Averett and Dominique Buncio, seamstresses who usually work out of Patagonia’s Reno repair facility. They said that, depending on the length of the stop (some will be four hours long, others eight), the number of repairs required and degree of difficulty, they'll probably be able to dispatch 20 to 30 rehabilitated garments per stop. “If we make a sacrifice to the gods maybe we’ll get a few more [done],” Averett says with a grin as she sits behind an industrial Juki sewing machine, a dozen bobbins of colored thread dancing above her head like a seamstress’ thought balloon.

But the number of repairs isn’t actually the main point of the tour, since sending things to Reno (which Patagonia reps say handles about 30,000 repairs a year) would be a far more efficient way of getting things fixed. (And, it should be noted, that’s exactly what could happen if a particular Patagonia piece ends up requiring time-consuming repairs or demand ends up overwhelming the abilities of the darning duo.) It’s more about spreading the company’s “if it’s broke, fix it” mantra, which is one reason the mobile tour is extending the same offer of minor repairs (things like repairing broken zippers, patching small holes and sewing up split seams) not just for its own products, but those from other labels too.

“It’s about two things,” said Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s director of environmental initiatives, on Thursday. “At a fundamental level it’s about reducing the environmental footprint of any particular garment. The longer you wear a garment, the less impact it has on the environment because it doesn’t need to be replaced.” Ridgeway said that while durability is a “giant factor,” in extending the closet life span of any given item, there are other forces at work too. “The way to inspire people to wear things longer is to do something that makes them love [those things] – to focus on the relationships people have with certain items.”

That notion, Ridgeway explained, formed the basis of Patagonia’s Worn Wear initiative. Launched in 2013, it uses social media (including an Instagram account and a Worn Wear blog) to post stories and images submitted by customers from around the world; shared memories like a long-ago first order from Glacier National Park in 1996 and the tale of a cherished secondhand jacket bought in 1988 and proudly worn by a resident of Chilean Patagonia. The Worn Wear tour is an extension of that effort, and the company hopes it will underscore how easy it is to extend the life of a well-worn or slightly damaged loved one.

That’s why, in addition to on-the-spot repairs (and a second truck stocked with discounted returned and exchanged items for purchase) each stop will include a table stocked with tools and DIY repair guides. “We’ll have about 30 pieces at this table for each stop,” explained the tour's manager Jonny Pucci, “and we’re going to teach people how to fix things themselves. And if they fix it they can take it home with them.”

Another cool DIY component? The return leg of the tour. After its final stop in Boston, the truck is scheduled for a late June appearance at the Solid Sound festival in North Adams, Mass. After that, where it stops on its way back west is in the hands of customers and fans of the brand who weigh in online.

“We’re hoping we’ll get positive feedback and suggestions through social media,” Pucci said. “So we’ll be able to kind of crowdsource it.”

The first stop in Patagonia’s Worn Wear tour takes place Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Mollusk Surf Shop, 4500 Irving St., San Francisco. Additional information, including the complete tour itinerary, can be found at patagonia.com/us/worn-wear/.

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