Why aren’t these industries being disrupted?
In the spirit of Marie Kondo, why isn’t it easier to prolong the life of what brings us joy — where are the modern tailors, cobblers, and dry-cleaners?
Maybe I’m in the minority. I still go to the tailor periodically for repairs or adjustments to my garments. I had a pair of boots resoled recently. And I visit the dry-cleaner every few weeks to have nicer items laundered.
Problem is, these apparel-adjacent industries are incredibly old-fashioned — in a bad way.
Initially, they can be hard to find at all. Depending on where you live, a good tailor could be miles away. Even if you find one or a handful, it’s tricky to know if they’re any good. The same is true for shoe cobblers and dry cleaners. And things can go very wrong very fast if someone doesn’t know their craft.
In the past, I’ve resorted to asking for recommendations by word-of-mouth and secondarily, making my own judgements by trial. But these professionals regularly close shop, rename their businesses, or change owners, lack digital presences, and are often opaque in terms of process or pricing— all of which diminish their legitimacy and put them at odds with modern consumers.
These industries are begging to be disrupted, not because their practitioners are overcharging and underdelivering, but because the world needs more skilled tailors, cobblers, and garment care professionals so we might consume less overall and keep what we already love.
The concept of repairing a pair of shoes or a favorite jacket may seem quaint, but it’s actually quite satisfying.
While going out and buying something new (or clicking “complete purchase”) can be a thrill, ultimately we all have pieces in our closet we cherish, that define our style, and we’d prefer to keep forever.
This is where a good tailor(/cobbler/dry-cleaner), like a good mechanic, comes in handy.
My pair of Italian boots may not be a durable good in the same way my car is, but when their comparable new replacement could cost hundreds, they kinda are.
I had them resoled recently at a shop in San Francisco’s Parkside neighborhood run by a 30-something guy who first worked on shoes and leather as a hobby. With the cost of niche tools from Italy mounting, he decided to parlay the interest into a business.
His space has the charming disorganization of a typical shoe repair shop with the merchandising and branding of a hipster boutique .
Total cost to resole? $85.
It’s like having brand new boots.
But the ease of this process — finding the shop, seeing that he has a digital presence and all positive reviews, getting exactly what I wanted — was an anomaly.
These services fell out of prominence when we started buying cheaper, not-worth-the trouble apparel and accessories.
With a dwindling industry came a dwindling interest among young people in training to sew or hammer shoe soles (or manage a dry cleaner).
That may change with swing of the pendulum back toward analog handiwork — for fun or for work — and the increasing novelty of buying and keeping quality. AND, the collective wisdom that cheap fast fashion is wasteful and ultimately unsatisfying.
From top to bottom, some adjustments to fit the modern consumer are in order.
All three of these professions need an injection of digital help. In the same way that apps allow for mobile booking salon services, so too should one be able to find and book time to visit a tailor/cobbler, read reliable reviews, and directly communicate with these professionals. And, understand their process.
Some existing dry cleaners already do things like pick up and drop off, but few are transparent about their process, relying on the same toxic/questionable chemical dry-cleaning process that’s existed for years. Many cleaners also use plastic bags and cheap disposable hangers to package garments, both of which are wasteful and unnecessary.
I have a hard time finding any “organic” dry cleaners locally, so I begrudgingly take my things to the most convenient standard dry cleaner, and simply limit how much and how often I use their services.
Improving the legitimacy and access to essential care services for apparel and garments will help move us away from constantly buying new and feeling as if we must prioritize low prices. Instead, we could see our purchases as long-term investments that we can love a little longer with the right help.
I’m all for disruption of say, the prescription eyewear industry in the form of Warby Parker. Its business model addresses several frustrations of the traditional corrective eyeglasses purchase process while offering a stylish, durable product for a reasonable price. No wonder the brand has been so successful.
But what Warby Parker, Everlane, Allbirds, and so many other distruptors don’t address is the necessity to simply be consuming less. We already have too much. Collectively, we’re well past drowning in stuff — mostly cheap, plasticky, badly-made, and unattractive stuff. How we’ll address all of it is a big question.
For those of us who prefer quality over quantity, loath to ever step foot in an H&M, the offering from Warby Parker is less compelling.
Sure, the frames are stylish enough and inexpensive such that losing them or replacing them regularly is no big deal (even fun). But they’re by no means beautiful or unique, and are they recyclable? Made of biodegradable acetate? Is that even a thing?
I’d love to see a startup that can repurpose or refurbish old eyeglasses. Now that would be innovation.
In a future where we will need to more carefully scrutinize all purchases, design will become more important, and prolonging the life of what we do ultimately buy will become more important as well.