Repair

City Secrets: London’s Best Repair Services

This article is part of a guide to london by FT Globetrotter

2020 has been a wonderful year for moths. As cashmere yards fled to Cannes and the Cotswolds, the moths moved in. Suitcase after suitcase of sweaters and pashminas, tweeds and tartans have been nibbled away during thousands of pestilential confinement evenings. When their owners returned from exile, rather than replacing their damaged adornments, many turned to repair services.

There is nothing new in repair services. For years I’ve taken my umbrellas back to James Smith & Sons on New Oxford Street to replace a rib, fit a new cover or refinish a scratched wooden handle. Turnbull & Asser on Jermyn Street regularly replaces the collars and cuffs of the shirts they made for me and mends their pajamas and ties. And we all have our favorite cobblers. There’s something deeply satisfying about old friends returning rejuvenated, ready for another few years of dapper companionship.

The umbrella repair service at James Smith & Sons

But over the past two years, repair services have blossomed. Concerns about the ethics and sustainability of fast fashion, the expectation that things must be fixable, the rediscovery of craftsmanship and the appreciation of vintage clothing created the perfect conditions for this renaissance.

The British Invisible Mending Service is the dean of clothing repairs, having operated in Marylebone for around 70 years with a workshop in Mid Glamorgan. It provides a very specific service – the restoration of woven fabrics, usually wool (not silk or cotton) incorporating threads taken from an inconspicuous part of the garment into the warp and weft of the damaged area. As its name suggests, it is a pure restoration work intended to restore the garment to its original appearance, as if nothing had happened. The art of concealment.

A shirt being repaired at Turnbull & Asser

A shirt being repaired in Turnbull & Asser’s Gloucester workshop

Replacement collars from Turnbull & Asser.

Replacement collars from Turnbull & Asser. In addition to its shirts, the St James Institution also mends ties and pajamas

The other way to approach repair work is to celebrate, rather than hide, the damage: the triumph of texture. The moth hole or burn mark is part of the object’s history, and the way the damage is repaired becomes a visual record of that history as well as an aesthetic enrichment of the piece. The Japanese art of kintsugi rejoices in the appearance of pottery repaired by the use of gold or silver lacquer inserts. Such visible repair is the approach taken by Shelley Zetuni of Sewingsmith. Zetuni’s interventions take the form of bursts of multicolored embroidery (she’s as happy discussing color choices with her clients as being left free by them). In one case, she restored a sweater with 30 moth holes, a polychrome inventory of damage but also a reinvention of the sweater.

Changes in an object’s appearance following its repair can also be motivated by practical matters. Turnbull & Asser can’t always match the exact color of worn, slightly faded cotton, and I’m regularly charmed by the sight of my once understated blue shirts having transformed into flamboyant 1980s numbers thanks to the addition of shiny white collars and cuffs — less is more to Roger Moore.

A damaged sweater repaired by Shelley Zetuni of Sewingsmith by patching its holes with multicolored stitching

Sewingsmith’s Shelley Zetuni reinvents damaged garments with colorful visible mending

A close up of a hole in a Zetuni repaired garment with pink and purple stitching

Zetuni’s approach to repair creates “a visual record of the object’s history as well as an aesthetic enrichment of the piece”

Reinventing objects is a recurring theme in this world of creative repair. At Pristine Dry Cleaners, a highly recommended tailoring and dry cleaning neighborhood in Lancaster Gate and Kensington, a customer recently requested that a worn-out bean bag be turned into dress pants. Repairs often result in creative engagement and dialogue with customers. As Pristine founder Nita Shah’s genius son Paarus Shah explained to me, two minds can have completely different approaches to fixing the same thing and the key is to let the staff use their imaginations.

Vanessa Jacobs, founder of The Restory, a specialist in the restoration of luxury clothing, bags and shoes, identifies a tension between manufacturers wanting to restore their damaged items to their original condition and a growing number of customers who want something more personal to happen. Jacobs is able to cater to both extremes by employing people from a variety of backgrounds, from art restorers to fashion designers. Internal design competitions are organized for “transformations” of objects before an idea is presented to a client.

Restoration of a Chanel bag at the Restory.

Restoration of a Chanel bag at the Restory. The company employs specialists from a variety of backgrounds, from art restorers to fashion designers.

Jacobs, whose clients include private customers, shops and businesses, has seen a real and recent change in the approach to the repair industry as people have become more aware of the environmental impact of fashion. “The penny has dropped for many brands in 2021,” she says, noting that a number of them have signed plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. time spent in its stores to show customers how to repair cashmere products. For James Smith umbrellas, there is also the feeling that a repair service should be available for customers, even if it takes time for the five production employees in the workshop under its historic premises. And this trend is spreading to other sectors: Cubitts has a ‘Rehab’ service for its glasses, while interiors company Soane Britain has started offering repairs to its customers.

I asked Zetuni of Sewingsmith how repair services in high labor cost economies can be reconciled with mass produced fashion in low cost countries – are repair services a luxury , a product of philosophy and fashion rather than economic sense, and therefore not scalable in any meaningful way? The key for Zetuni is education – for repairs to become mainstream, you have to learn how to sew, be aware of the benefits of sewing. During the pandemic, Zetuni gave visible repair classes online and continued them in person. Zetuni also tells me about the ‘Stitch It, Don’t Ditch It’ movement on Britain’s high streets – rows of seamstresses sitting outside popular retailers, sewing up repairs in a bid to make people hesitate before buying even more disposable clothes. For Zetuni, “salvation will come through sewing”.

The trend setters

James Smith & Son © Mark Thomas/Alamy

Clothes and accessories

UK Invisible Repair Service, 32 Thayer Street, London W1U 2QT

Heritage Dry Cleaners, 13 Chestnut Grove, London SW12 8JA

Pristine Dry Cleaners, 2 Craven Terrace, London W2 3QD; 47 Kensington Church Street, London W8 4BA

The Restory, online with collection service and in Selfridges stores in London, Trafford and Birmingham

Selfridges Repairs Concierge, 400 Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB

Sewing and mending courses

Turnbull & Asser, 71-72 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6PF

Umbrellas

James Smith & Sons, 53 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1BL

Furniture and interior design

Soane Great Britain, 50-52 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8LP

Do you have a great repair service to recommend? Share them in the comments below

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