Businesses offering consumers ways to care for or lengthen the life of their clothing are booming. Drapers speaks to four growing businesses to find out about why the aftercare sector is on the up.
As sustainability has become one of fashion’s biggest buzzwords, a new generation of businesses that cater to a more conscious consumer is emerging. These entrepreneurs take a new approach to repairs, restoration and clothing upkeep, and offer services that extend the life of clothes.
The businesses Drapers spoke to have sustainability at the heart of their growing operations. Shoppers want to buy less, get value out of their purchases, and avoid sending clothes to landfill.
Aftercare services are also an important element of the booming rental and resale sectors, as they allow consumers and businesses to refresh items before they sell them on or rent them out.
In addition, retailers are bringing these services or products on board to cater to the aftercare demands of the shopper. It is an opportunity that seems likely to grow as circularity becomes more important.
However, the businesses providing such services will need to work intelligently to scale their offers and retain the exclusivity that sets them apart, as well as fighting off competition from retailers’ in-house repair services. The market remains relatively untapped at the moment, making it seem like an easy win, but if the sustainability trend continues to boom, then creating a point of difference will become more important than ever.
Four businesses working in the field explain their concepts to Drapers and share their thoughts on the evolution of a new sector of the fashion industry. Meet the masters of aftercare.
“The Restory is an on-demand aftercare service,” says co-founder Vanessa Jacobs. “Our aim is to build the global infrastructure to bring trusted and easy aftercare services to brands, retailers and consumers worldwide.”
Launched in 2016 by Jacobs, and co-founders Thais Cipolletta and Emily John, it offers a luxury restoration and repair service, primarily for footwear and handbags.
“I didn’t understand why someone hadn’t turned [repairs and aftercare] into more of an ecommerce business,” says Jacobs. Customers can book a collection via on-demand pick-up and drop-off points in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. Items are then restored, repaired or “reimagined” by The Restory’s team before being delivered back to customers or pick-up points.
Pricing varies dependent on items: typical repairs for handbags cost £150 and shoes £100.
Jacobs says the rise of resale has helped the business: “The secondary market is broadening the luxury audience, and sustainability is on people’s minds. People are thinking about net value: how much will you buy an item for, and what are you going to sell it for?” Customers therefore seek
to ensure their products retain value: “This is a space that is often overlooked from a business perspective. The secondary markets are profileda lot, but they can’t happen without aftercare.”
Lulu O’Connor founded Clothes Doctor in 2017 as a repairs service for workers in the City of London. She has since expanded the business to include a range of care products, and provide repairs and restorations for the burgeoning rental market.
“As I was working long hours in the City, it was hard to get things repaired,” she explains. “The experience was really poor, and items would get damaged [by the repairers].”
O’Connor set up a team of seven in a workshop in Cornwall (her original home), focusing on old-fashioned repair techniques, and ensuring the team was upskilled in a variety of repair methods.
The business now has an office in London, where customers can drop off and collect their items. They can also leave items at CollectPlus locations or post them directly. Pricing is bespoke, but a seam repair starts at £7 and relining a coat £149. Typical repairs take a week to 10 days.
Sustainability is a core customer motivation, says O’Connor: “A huge number of people come to us for reasons of sustainability. In the first year, no one was saying that, but it has started to really get into people’s mindsets.”
Along these sustainable lines, Clothes Doctor also works with rental companies including Hurr, Onloan and By Rotation: “The rental mindset is very similar to ours. We help by providing them with repair services and products so that customers can maintain their clothing.”
Clothes Doctor launched a range of hand-wash and care products last year, explains O’Connor: “A lot of customers would get something repaired but then didn’t have much understanding of how to look after it, or of good products to look after it with. Our ethos is to help people love their clothes for longer and help them find solutions.”
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, in Walthamstow, north-east London, is one of the few remaining denim manufacturers in the UK. Launched in April 2016, it focuses on selvedge, raw and organic denim, and provides a free repairs service on all its own items.
It also repairs other brands’ jeans for a fee.
Its Coal Drops Yard store in King’s Cross opened in October, and features a haberdashery and a darning machine. Customers can have their clothing altered or repaired within the store.
Ecommerce manager Stephanie Steele says the service builds both personal relationships and sustainable credentials: “Customers feel like they can come back to us and talk about their jeans. They are looking for a personal experience.
“The other element is sustainability. We want to encourage people to mend their garments rather than throwing them away.”
Steele notes that the service builds trust with shoppers and encourages them to return.
The atelier is also considering offering mending lessons, and in January it will launch “masterclasses” at the Walthamstow factory, where it willteach sewing on industrial machinery, to allow participants to make their own jeans from scratch.
As shoppers become more aware of issues around traditional cleaning and care methods, more sustainable approaches are on the rise. Damage from repeated dry cleaning, harsh chemicals in washing power, use of large amounts of water and concern over microplastics shed by washing machines are avoided by steaming, which has been popular in professional circles for years.
One brand benefiting from this is Steamery Stockholm. Founded in 2014 by Frej Lewenhaupt, Petra Ringström and Martin Lingner, the brand decided to function as a “fashion accessory”, and target consumers through a network of fashion and lifestyle retailers.
“Investing in good clothes equals investing in good care products,” says Lewenhaupt. “People are interested in design and fashion, but they are also interested in beautiful products to take care of their fashions.
“The trend for fast fashion is waning. People want to buy things that are high quality, that they want to look after once they have bought them.” He believes that Steamery’s products help to aid sustainability by extending the lifespan of clothes: “If you take care of your clothes better, they will last, so you won’t have to buy so many new clothes. You’ll have a larger budget to spend on clothes that you actually want.”
In 2017, Steamery launched a design-focused line of steamers and anti-pilling tools. Today, it is sold in 1,500 stores across Europe, and its 50 UK stockists include Selfridges, Asos, Mr Porter and Liberty. Its bestseller is the handheld Cirrus steamer (£110 retail), and other products include a de-pilling fabric shaver (£40 retail). Wholesale prices range from £4 for “steam water” for its devices to £245 for a professional steamer.