The clues are everywhere. There’s a wicker basket full of cloth; books about leather and fabric stacked and bound with a dark green belt; and a woman with a measuring tape around her neck who, to pass the time, is threading a needle through the holes of button-shaped sugar cookies.
Still, the people who approach the newest tent at the Durham Craft Market at the end of May seem to have tunnel vision for the clothing rack. They peruse its small collection of shirts, vests, and jackets before realizing that all of the items are in disrepair.
“Is this a new young person thing?” one person asks, eyeing a brown leather jacket with a hole in the sleeve.
Technically, yes: Mya Castillo-Marte, who soft launched the Creative Repair pop-up several hours earlier, is 35. The service she is offering, though, is an ancient one.
Castillo-Marte specializes in mending wearables and home furnishings. If a customer brings in an item that’s an easy fix—a blouse with a missing button, say, or pants with a broken belt loop—Castillo-Marte can do it on the spot at Creative Repair, a weekly gig she launched on May 20 at the Durham Craft Market, which takes place next to the Durham Farmers’ Market downtown.
For more intensive repairs, she’ll take an item home and bring it back to the market in a week or two or drop it off at a designated location. She can also do house calls for larger projects, like armchairs or ottomans.
Other items are welcome too: Castillo-Marte loves a good challenge, she says, and if she doesn’t know how to fix something, she probably knows someone who does.
Pricing varies by item, but Castillo-Marte says on-site fixes typically range from $5 to $15 and take-home repairs average between $30 and $50. She also offers multiple price options for a given item: if a customer just wants an item to be functional again, they can opt for a lower price; if they want a more comprehensive restoration, they can pay more.
The pop-up grew out of Castillo-Marte’s disillusionment with the retail industry. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 2010, she worked several jobs centered around the mass production of private label products, which are manufactured by third parties for brands like Charlotte Russe and H&M.
“I was part of the process of bringing hundreds of thousands of units worth of crap into the United States,” she says. “A lot of bubbles were bursted for me. There’s that saying: If a tree falls down in the middle of the woods, does it make a sound? It’s kind of like that when it comes to clothes—there have been scandals, internationally, about factories that have completely collapsed and killed 1,000 people, but brands continue exploiting people to keep their costs low.”
Castillo-Marte was also appalled by the level of overproduction and waste she witnessed.
She’d always wanted a Burberry trench coat, for instance, but when she realized that the brand does things like burn surplus stock to prevent its luxury goods from being sold at a discounted rate, that fantasy also died.
After several years in the industry, Castillo-Marte moved to Durham and ended up taking a job at local shop Wyatt & Dad Cobbler Company. Nearly every time she fixed something at the shop—shoes, a baby stroller, an umpire’s chest protector—customers would light up.
“Seeing how much these objects meant to people kind of changed my direction—or, my redemption, if you will,” Castillo-Marte says. “Getting things repaired takes time and money, and fast fashion, especially, has made it easier to throw something out than to put a few stitches in it. But after seeing people [react to my repairs at the shop] I realized the key is tying objects to memories.”
Several months ago, she left her job at the shop to pursue Creative Repair. Beyond providing a repair service and educating customers on troublesome retail industry customs, Castillo-Marte says that the pop-up aims to encourage people to “tell the stories of the silent heroes that live in our closets.”
“We cannot simply discard everything and replace it with something brand new, that’s likely of lesser quality, when so many of these things have value to us beyond their use,” she says. “Ultimately, I want to create a repair revolution.”
On her first market day, a handful of Castillo-Marte’s friends drop off clothing at the Creative Repair tent. Most items get hung on the rack, but when one friend delivers a pair of platform wedges with a broken strap and a peeling sole, Castillo-Marte jumps into action.
She talks her friend through a few different repair variations, then whips out her emergency mending kit: a small plastic case full of needles, seam rippers, bread clips (which she repurposes as spools), and other tools that she often uses to help strangers with wardrobe malfunctions on the fly.
With a tiny pair of Japanese scissors, she then cuts down the elastic on the broken strap and quickly torches it with a lighter to prevent any fraying. She didn’t bring her full tool kit along for the soft launch, she says, but once home, she’ll patch the strap with leather and cement the sole down with shoe glue.
After that, she goes to examine the other items her friends have dropped off: a burgundy vest with frayed arm holes; a red blazer with torn lining; and a pair of jeans with a hole in the pocket.
“Fabric is so forgiving,” Castillo-Marte says. “I think that’s why they call it ‘the fabric of life’—when you make mistakes, there’s always a way to always fix it.”
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