Mend it like…
Nice piece in the guardian yesterday about "repair culture" dying out. The desire for high end premium goods worth repairing has been stripped by the huge market in cheap white goods that have become almost as disposable as bic razors, albeit with a slightly longer life span and trickier to dispose of which in itself opens up markets for ‘waste management’ services when councils and contractors refuse to take certain rubbish from your door.
According to the article Dyson has more-or-less singlehandedly kept the repair industry alive as it’s the only product that people bother to repair now [and i suspect Dualit too] because of their high replacement value, though computers and related peripherals don’t seem to obey the same economic principles probably because the diagnostics and repair work requires a laboratory environment! But on the whole for white goods the disparity between labour costs and replacement costs has declined, whereas of course in the developing world [hate that term] you have cheaper labour re-making, recycling, breathing life into broken stuff; the disparity between product and labour costs is still wide enough for repair to be cost effective. What struck me about this article though is how ironic it is that in an age where waste and environmental concerns are so critical and so mainstream, that we’re still chucking old stuff away; no business models have come around to cater for ‘repair’ and we’re still being seduced by ‘the upgrade’, new technology when more often than not existing stuff works just fine for the task at hand. And nowhere is this more evident than in computing and computing peripherals inc. mobile telephony. Nerds are responsible for perpetuating a waste culture that should now be an anachronism. Marketers are of course talented in creating perceived needs and must-haves – witness the evangelical response to Apple’s iPhone. So how could repair be re-invented? How could it point the way to a culture of innovation and creativity?
- What happened to designing for a products death? Life cycle management doesn’t seem to exist in consumables and white goods. Disassembling goods should be something we could all do. Make the organs of the product re-usable.
- Why not then have the repairman as the technical re-maker, a high end craftsman creating original pieces of industrial consumables to compete with the dualits and dysons. How great would that be? Personalised, unique maker-style stuff with its own story!
- Or the repairshop as a retail end of a warranty service. Generic labour-only ‘warranty’ and covering x branded goods could be the basis for a service. You get stuff fixed, and advice on how to fix stuff in return for an annual fee and all you do is pick up the tab for the replacement parts and such a business could itself stimulate a business in making generic, copied parts.
- DIY fix-it sheds with trained mechanics and electricians to help you fix your stuff and in the process learn how to hack stuff anew.
Only in Shoreditch or Crouch End or Stoke Newington of course, but then most Springwise style Business 2.0 ideas seem to have this geographically bounded cohort as their target audience.