JACKSON, Wyo. — Sometimes a jacket is more than just a jacket. Sometimes it’s woven with a lifetime of memories, with rips and snags from a few missteps and held together with a few good laughs.
It’s not just a comfortable or functional piece of fabric to some; it’s a part of them.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear Tour, which set up shop in Jackson last month at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, aims to prolong the life of those pieces that mean so much and others that really just need a new zipper. It’s all about repairing garments and extending the life of your clothes, said Kern Ducote, Worn Wear’s content producer.
“The philosophy behind repairing things is pretty simple: What we choose to throw away will ultimately have an effect on the environment,” he said. “The more we can repair and not buy, the better the effect on the environment and the less impact that we’re going to have overall.”
The tour is centered around “Delia,” a wooden-shingled workshop on wheels, that Ducote described as part repair shop, part used-clothing retail store.
Outside the unique tow-behind trailer was a pop-up tent holding all the supplies and tools needed for do-it-yourself repair: new zipper stops, industrial strength tenacious tape, a snap press and knowledgeable helpers. Inside were clothing racks filled with gently used gear that had a snag or two, an industrial Brother sewing machine and spools of thread in almost every color, patches of nylon rip-stop and new zippers.
Most of the clothing brought to the mobile repair shop by Jacksonites could be fixed right at the outside table.
“Rips and zippers are kind of our bread and butter,” Ducote said.
Other things like large rips, torn Velcro or complicated hidden zippers required a sewing machine and were checked in to get the full treatment.
“It’s fun in that way, trying to see how long you can take care of something and how many times you can repair it and how long you can make it last for you,” Ducote said.
The clothing lining the racks inside was open for the taking — one per person with an optional donation to Protect Our Winters. In the past it had been kind of a “crazy feeding frenzy of ‘free Patagonia gear,'” Ducote said, so they streamlined and fine-tuned the process.
“We still felt it was important to help initiate the conversation about what it looks like to repair something that someone else returned, as well as give that clothing a really awesome second life or second chance at life,” he said.
Most people don’t know how to repair their own clothes, whether it’s replacing a broken zipper or mending a tear. It’s kind of a lost art these days, Ducote said.
“I definitely think there are fewer and fewer pockets of that skill,” he said. “I’m not sure if home economics is even a thing that’s taught in schools anymore and sewing is a big part of that.”
But the trade of sewing is practical, and he said it’s a goal to make sewing popular again. People who picked up a used jacket from Delia’s inside shop were able to take five to 10 minutes and patch a puffy or shell that would normally run hundreds of dollars brand new. You save that money on a new jacket you don’t need to buy now, Ducote said.
“If you ask me that makes a whole lot of sense,” he said.
A PERSONAL TOUCH
Worn Wear has been around for only about five years but has affected thousands of people.
It was originally a blog, created by Lauren and Keith Malloy, to document and tell the stories behind people’s clothes.
“They had seen this trend of so many people loving their Patagonia clothing well over a decade,” Ducote said.
But as the blog’s popularity soared, Patagonia decided to merge a few departments. The blog became a full-fledged program mixed with the Common Threads department, the company’s recycling department and the repairs department. Ducote said Patagonia has always had a repair department and an ironclad guarantee, which says if you’re not satisfied with a product you can return it to Patagonia for a repair, replacement or refund.
Once the departments merged, they hit the ground running, literally. Jay Nelson built the first wooden Worn Wear mobile shop, which sat in the back of a pickup. It was aptly named Delia after repairs department manager Delia Martinez Togoan, who died shortly before the tour launched. Delia’s legacy has been an important part of the program, Ducote said.
“We named the truck after her, and it was really cool to see the power of that and still see the parallel between the spirit of Delia and how much she cared about repair,” he said, “and that compared to the spirit of people extending the life of their clothing.”
Since the first tour in 2015 the crew, made up of full-time Worn Wear employees Ducote and tour manager Brandon Richards and a couple of contract sewing technicians, has done a minimum of two tours a year.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” Ducote said.
Ducote said it feels like Patagonia is giving back in a way that companies really haven’t in the past.
“When you boil it down to the less personal terminology: This is customer service at its most basic form,” he said. The kind of customer service that travels “thousands and thousands of miles around the country just doing laps around the United States,” he said.
But on a personal level it’s the kind of customer service that has a real connection with its consumers. Whether it’s someone who has had a piece of clothing for decades or something that’s multigenerational and bound for a future child.
“It’s really cool to be able to help continue, just through repairing things, that sentiment,” he said. “That’s something that Patagonia really believes in and Worn Wear really believes in: the sentimental value of clothing and how enabling it is to wear something that you trust.”
Ducote said Patagonia climbing ambassador Steve House said it best when he wouldn’t give up a tattered base layer — his first base layer. House has said that getting rid of that first piece of clothing would be like throwing away a journal, there were so many memories woven in to it.
“His base layer was torn to shreds, the cuffs were destroyed, and his elbows went all the way through them, but he refused to give that up because all the things he had accomplished or done or lived through or experienced while wearing that base layer,” Ducote said. “You can’t throw something like that away, it has too much sentimental value and memory that it’s just worth keeping.”
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com