Rugged Thread Repair Shop in Bend, Oregon makes it Good as New
A look behind the scenes of the recommerce movement.
A backpack with a broken strap, a tent with a jammed zipper, a torn puffy jacket, ski pants with a blown out crotch, these are just some of the repairs coming through the door of Rugged Thread. This shop is located right in the heart of Bend, Oregon—a town rated as the Best Multi-Sport town ever in Outside Magazine. You can imagine there’s no shortage of outdoor clothing and gear in need of technical repairs.
The shop was founded in 2011 by Kim Kinney, an expert tailor and sewer who had started out repairing ski outerwear at Snowbird, Utah. Kim went on to found Rugged Thread simply on the idea of extending the life of gear, with the end goal of keeping it out of the landfill.
Kinney shares, “Nature has always been a big influence on my life and I feel it’s my responsibility to be a part of the change towards repairs as a norm.” In the process she has created a highly-successful repair experience that’s easy, affordable, and of the highest quality for individual users as well as for some of the biggest brands in the outdoor industry. She has also raised awareness about the recommerce movement and the benefits of repair and reuse, including keeping outerwear and gear in use and out of the landfill. She points to a statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency estimating that the U.S. throws away 16 million tons of textiles every year.
We asked Kinney a bit about her environmental ethos, the benefits of buying quality products and some tricks for keeping products at its peak performance. She also shares some of the unusual damaged gear she’s been able to repair over the years.
Geartrade: Can you share your take on the benefits of keeping outdoor products in use versus buying new and disposing of gear in landfills?
Kim Kinney: I think most people associate textile waste with the fast fashion industry, but the outdoor industry is problematic because most of the clothing and gear is made from petrochemicals that take over 250 years to breakdown and contaminate water and landfills in the meantime. Everyone wants to have reliable and awesome outdoor gear, and that’s not a bad thing, but I think it’s time to rethink the cycle of our stuff. Simply extending the life of an item by nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30-percent. Everybody can make an impact by choosing to repair.
GT: How important is it to buy quality gear at the outset? Does that play a big part in whether something is repairable?
Kinney: So important! Most high-quality brands use standardized zippers, seam tape, and other materials that we can source and use for repair, whereas other brands will try and save on costs by using lower quality parts.
A great example of this is zipper sliders. Always look for clothing and gear that uses YKK zippers. Not only will they last longer, but when they need to be replaced, we can often just swap out the slider for $15–35 rather than replace the entire zipper for $75–$150.
GT: What are some of the most common repairs that come through your shop?
Kinney: What’s in the shop is very seasonal, but in general, zippers are the most common repair because they’re on just about everything. In the summer we get lots of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and motorcycle gear, whereas in the winter we get tons of down jackets and technical outerwear.
GT: What are some examples of repair jobs you do that people might not know about or think to repair?
Kinney: Rugged Thread started by repairing anything our local Central Oregon community needed fixed—as long as it fit in a sewing machine. We’ve repaired sailboat sails, Jeep soft top covers, canvas wall tents, Sprinter van screens, and outdoor cushion covers.
GT: Are there lessons you find yourself constantly teaching people about gear/outerwear to extend the life?
Kinney: I’m constantly learning new things from customers and employees, which I love! Here’s a couple tips though on keeping your gear in working order:
- Dirt deteriorate zippers so if you camp in a dusty area, rinse out your tent and backpack zippers when you get back to extend their life.
- Washing down sleeping bags and jackets always feels risky but is actually super simple and will make them nice and puffy again: Use a front-loading washer. Wash on warm with powder detergent (not liquid!). Dry on low heat with two tennis balls until totally dry.
- You can re-waterproof your own clothing and gear with Nikwax or patch little holes with Tenacious Tape—both great, cheap options!
As recommerce continues to grow, so does Rugged Thread. The shop recently won a Repair and Reuse grant from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to scale repairs in the outdoor industry. Kinney plans to use the proceeds from this grant to help fund a program to revitalize technical, high-end sewing as a career path.
Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon. You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com