Toronto Clothing Repairathon brings new life to damaged clothes

Volunteers with local organization fix damaged clothes for free at Withrow Park Farmers Market

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” added another “R” at the Withrow Park Farmers Market: Repair.

A non-profit organization, Toronto Clothing Repairathon, made its third visit to the farmers market on Sept. 30.

Participants could have up to two items of ripped or damaged clothes repaired for free. The volunteer tailors stitched together torn clothing, sewed patches over holes or frayed fabric and reattached buttons.

Toronto Clothing Repairathon was founded by Michael Fagan in 2013. The second-ever repairathon was held at Withrow Park Farmers Market that year.

Fagan said he was inspired by repair cafes in Europe, where pop-up shops offer spaces for people to have a variety of items repaired.

“It seemed like a great idea and something that would be nice to bring here,” he said.

While repair cafes in Europe offer fixes for everything from kitchen appliances to computers, Fagan said he chose clothing repair because of the accessibility of equipment (needles and thread) and people with sewing skills.

The organization also works to make those skills more common.

One of the repairathon volunteers, Barbara Taylor, said she has “always been sewing.” But volunteers do not have to be experienced sewers to help.

Toronto Clothing Repairathon also holds sewing workshops. A recent repairathon in Regent Park gave families the option to have volunteers repair their clothing, or teach them to repair it themselves.

“We always encourage people to come out and join us,” Taylor said. “It’s been a really great way to get out into the community and meet new people.”

Volunteers both hand-stitched and used a sewing machine to do their mending.

Fagan said the Toronto Clothing Repairathon has received enthusiastic responses from the community. In fact, some of its events have been “really packed.”

“It’s almost sad when we have more clothes than the four or so volunteers we have for a particular event can do,” he said.

Fagan added that they have inspired a similar organization in Edmonton, suitably called Edmonton Repairathon.

“Maybe in the future with more volunteers we’ll be able to spread to other places ourselves,” he said.

While the environmental impact is obvious, Fagan said the repairathon gives people more than the cost of a new garment.

“Some things that you think, ‘Oh, it’s just a shirt or whatever, it’s so trivial,’ have real sentimental value for any number of reasons,” he said.