Look on any outdoor gear or apparel manufacturer’s website, and they’ll likely have a page dedicated to their sustainable practices, including developing durable products meant to stand the test of time. Too bad there’s a serious hitch in their green goals: us.
American consumers generated nearly 13 million tons of clothing and footwear waste in 2018 (the most recent data available), according to stats from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Only 30 percent of those items were recycled or combusted with energy recovery, which means a cringe-worthy nine million tons of jackets, dresses, boots, baselayers, and jeans ended up in a landfill. The issue is larger than the outdoor industry, but our favorite hiking, skiing, and biking brands are still a part of the problem.
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“Textile waste has become a massive contributor to climate change,” says Anabelle McLean, owner and founder of Gear Washers, a Denver-based technical gear restoration company. “Each year clothing gets dumped in our landfills. Meanwhile, new clothing to replace what we waste has a significant water and carbon footprint.”
Gear Washers, along with other Colorado-based gear repair and restoration companies, hope to make a dent in the cycle by providing easy avenues for consumers to fix their garments rather than toss them. In fact, many of these local experts go beyond apparel to tackle unruly backpack zippers, bent tent poles, floppy ski boot clasps, and uphill climbing skins that have lost their stickiness. The practice is not only sustainable—it also benefits the user and often improves the gear.
Making a correlation to the monetary merit of tweaking rather than trashing is simple, notes Eli Shirzadian, owner of Bare Boulder Design & Repair—a Lafayette-based design, development, and repair company focused on technical outdoor items, soft goods, and more. Using a broken tent pole as an example, he points to the $30 to $45 repair fee compared to a $300 to $400 price tag for a new tent. Clearly, one option is more financially advantageous than the other.
Patching a hole in your down jacket or a rip in your shell has obvious benefits: more warmth, less draft, fewer stray feathers. But there are also performance advantages to be had. “Dirt and grime attract water, so with proper washing, your garment can regain water repellency and breathability,” McLean says. “If you’re spending significant time in the backcountry, a clean jacket provides better warmth and dryness.” So bottom line: Washing your gear makes it safer.
Some of these repairs can be done at home, at least in theory, with a needle and thread or spin cycle with a specialized detergent like Grangers Performance Wash. But if you don’t want the hassle or don’t have the right equipment (for example, some down products require a washer without a center agitator), it’s best to fork over $20 to $50 and let the experts handle it. Doing so is also arguably more eco-friendly, since the pros wash in larger batches on cycles that still use the least amount of water possible.
Is there ever a time to thank a piece of gear for its contribution to your life and then Marie Kondo that sucker? Not in McLean’s opinion. “Between repairs and this restoration process through washing and re-waterproofing, I would like to be challenged in not being able to salvage something,” she says. If you’re adamant it can’t be saved, “Please consider donation or consignment.”
Ready to get your repair on? As the seasons change and new types of gear get put to use, here are a slew of local repair shops, many of which allow you to mail your gear in if you can’t make it to their physical location.
Gear Repair Shops
Gear Washers | Denver
Expertise: laundering and re-waterproofing technical and down apparel, as well as other outdoor gear items
Bare Boulder Design & Repair | Lafayette
Expertise: design, development, and repair of technical outdoor and ski gear, leather goods, and more
Feral | Denver
Expertise: repairs to tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, jackets, clothing, and more
Boulder Mountain Repair | Byers
Expertise: sewn repairs and alterations to outerwear, packs, sleeping bags, tents, and more
Stitchlines | Englewood
Expertise: repairs to camping, backpacking, kayak, and scuba gear
San Juan Sewing | Durango
Expertise: outdoor gear repair and cleaning
Gear Restore | Thornton
Expertise: outdoor gear repair, restoration, and waterproofing