The fixers movement and repair cafés – an act of resistance

We throw away alot of stuff in Finland which become waste. Even things with almost nothing wrong and which after a simple repair could get a new life. In the Netherlands, Brazil and the US, a growing number of repair groups are protesting society’s throwaway mentality by fixing what is broken.

To repair things when they stopped working was what everyone did before. But the life expectancy of a new product today is getting shorter all the time and it’s normally cheaper to buy a new product than to get it fixed. But there is a counter current movement – people who want to become more aware as consumers and gain repair skills themselves, writes Inês Revés in Domus web. 

The new fixers movement oppose the throwaway mentality in our society today. For them, repairing is a way to raise awareness on how we consume things today, particularly on how many products on the market today are designed to only last a certain amount of years. I asked a sales person in London when I bought my I phone and bought an extra warranty where I should send my phone if it breaks.  “You’ll get a new one, no one repairs these anymore, and in a couple of years when the warranty runs out you will want the latest model anyway”, he said.  I thought about my mother-in-law’s refrigerator and large old stove which were in very good shape more than 50 years after they were bought in the 1950s. Today products we should have even better possibilities to produced things that would last for 50 years – but we don’t want to!

That is why it is inspiring that there are movements like the Repair Café Foundation, a Dutch non-profit organization which provides free meeting places throughout the Netherlands for repair workshops. Repair Cafés are free meeting places – people gather there to repair things together. In a Repair Café you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. You can repair clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, etc. You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics.

The story of the Repair Cafés was inspired by the 2008 Repair Manifesto by Platform21, a design collective based in Amsterdam. With the motto Stop recycling, start repairing. The manifesto criticized the green movements which according to them completely disregarded the notion of repairing. There was an immediate wave of supporters, and Platform21 organized an exhibition, lectures and workshops, all related to the theme of repairing.

Martine Postma, the founder of the Repair Café Foundation, stumbled upon one of these events and organized the first fixers meeting in 2010. The Repair Café Foundation got some financial help from the Dutch Government and other institutions. Today the foundation offers a guide for people interested in starting their own repair meetings, with basic guidelines and some counseling if necessary. Now Repair cafés and meetings are organized in almost 40 different locations spread over many cities in the Netherlands.

The Repair Café gatherings happen two to four times a month in most cases, and are usually held in community centers. The meetings are hosted by volunteers who make sure everybody gets a cup of coffee, some of them are specialized and help others with their expertise — it’s very important to have electricians to help fix small household appliances, for example. These meetings also bring people together.  Some volunteers are unemployed and through these gatherings they can use their specific skills and be useful for others. The idea is to repair together: “knowledge transfer interconnected with an environmental concern”, says Annette Posthumus, from a repair café in Rotterdam.

“The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.
 Repair Café is changing all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.” (http://repaircafe.org/)

The fixers movement continues to gather people who want to change the way they relate to objects, writes Inês Revés. By repairing an object, you enhance your relationship and add something to it, appreciate its value and you see it a new light. You create a story between you and the object. It’s also a learning process, and a way to gain control over technology, just by having the power to fix something yourself. Repair Café helps change people’s mindset and is one way to build a more sustainable society.

There are other groups who are hosting similar repair meetings. The Fixers Collective in New York City which was started in 2008, meet regularly to fix things together.  The Yellow Bike Community Bike Shops in Austin, Texas offers educational facilities open to anyone who wants to learn about fixing and riding bikes. In Denver, Colorado The Bike Depot offers space and tools and volunteer mechanics on hand who can help with most bike maintenance and repair questions. I also heard about a car repair shop where you can come and repair you car your self.  What a great idea!

Websites such as howstuffworks.com or ifixit.com offer detailed guides on how to repair specific things, while providing worldwide platforms for discussion and exchange of information on the subject.

This summer Joanna van der Zandem taught a workshop titled Repair is an act of resistance, and is planning a new exhibition and a book on the subject. She wants to send a message to designers: “make your products repairable. Share clear, understandable information about DIY repairs”.  I agree!

Dispatch work by Jan Vormann

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