“I’d had an experience a long time ago of living in a village in Nepal and the way we lived there was that we repaired and reused everything,” remembers Sophie Unwin.
“In one year, as a household of six people, we created less than one dustbin of rubbish and that really opened my eyes.”
So much so in fact that Unwin, founder of the Edinburgh Remakery on Leith Walk, is spearheading a mend-and-make-do vision which is now set for international expansion.
The Edinburgh Remakery, a repair hub run by Remade Edinburgh, has helped more than 1,000 people to upcycle their goods since it opened in 2016.
And the first US Remakery is now due to open in Brooklyn, New York, in May.
People will have the opportunity there to learn how to repair household items such as computers, furniture and textiles.
Unwin hopes to grow her mission through the newly established Remade Network which will link repair centres and share business ideas.
Remade Edinburgh, which aims to bring mending into the mainstream, began in 2011 with just £60 and a handful of volunteers, but it now has a team of nine employees, 12 freelance tutors and more than 20 volunteers.
According to Ms Unwin, winner of UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2016, a key problem in our economy is that, as well as a lack of skills, it is cheaper to buy new things than to fix them.
“In other cultures, people are used to fixing things so I also thought about a business model that’s based around education.”
With a turnover of more than £220,000 in the last year, it is no surprise that the Edinburgh Remakery has gained recognition internationally.
“After we visited the Remakery on Leith Walk we couldn’t stop thinking about it,” says Linnae Hamilton, of the Brooklyn-based Remakery.
“We’ve been fixers our whole lives and it’s exciting to find kindred spirits.
“Over the past decade my husband and I renovated an old carriage house in North Brooklyn. We’d been searching for a tenant for a while and it was a difficult process that made me think carefully about my personal goals and issues like sustainability.
“We started to consider starting our own non-profit in the building and that’s when we learned about Remade Edinburgh.”
She will run the Brooklyn Remakery with business partner Carrington Morris, thanks to a start-up grant from the Citizens Committee for New York City and the Solid Waste Advisory Board of New York City.
“Linnae and I share a love of hand-crafted work, plus a total aversion to putting anything in the landfill that might be put to other use,” says Ms Morris, managing editor for Edible Manhattan.
“I was thrilled when Linnae asked me to partner with her, as to me, this is a dream vocation.”
The Brooklyn centre will be part of the Remade Network and will use Edinburgh Remakery’s business model. Brooklyn has recently seen a flood of demand for textile and computer repair in the community.
The Remakery will therefore offer after-school workshops to teach sewing to parents and children as well as having a focus on electronics.
“In the US people buy new mobile phones every 18 months on average. This is a huge waste stream and a big problem as although buyers are told their old phones are recycled, they often end up shipped to developing nations where the poorest of the poor, including children, burn them to salvage toxic metals,” says Mrs Hamilton, whose background is in photography and film.
Electronic repairs have been a key success at the Edinburgh Remakery where people book one-to-one appointments with technicians to learn how to repair their laptops. A typical experience that myself and many others have had is that you take it to a shop and you ask them to fix it and they say its quite difficult, it will cost £100 or you could buy a new one for £150 which will work much better,” explains Ms Unwin.
But she says that around 95 per cent of the laptops that pass through the centre’s doors are fixable and can last another three years.
It is also technology which is at the heart of one of the charity’s current campaigns – Laptops for Refugees.
It aims to raise £5,000 by January to refurbish laptops for the City of Edinburgh Council’s refugee resettlement programme.
“The laptop can be a real lifeline for refugees to access local information and services, and keep them connected with family and friends,” says Ms Unwin.
“We need £50 to refurbish each laptop to cover the cost of all parts and the time it takes to do so.”
The Edinburgh Remakery, which has received funding from Zero Waste Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council, also serves the community through a furniture partnership with Wester Hailes Charity Community Help & Advice Initiative.
That initiative provides people with advice on rights as well as furniture for those coming out of homelessness.
“It’s good collaboration as we can sell things they don’t need and the money is split between us and them,” says Ms Unwin.
By establishing a business model that combines helping the planet and education, Remade Edinburgh has achieved remarkable success and has received inquiries from as far as Canada and Tanzania.
Through the Remade Network, organisers now hope that social enterprises will learn from each other to advance common missions.
“Community-building is a fundamental component of our mission,” says Ms Morris.
“The challenges we face in society, whether environmental, social or other, cannot be remedied by individuals alone; we believe that we’re all in this together.”
Mrs Hamilton also hopes that the skills people acquire in Brooklyn will spread to other communities.
“People are eager to learn about more sustainable and ethical consumption,” she says.
“There is joy in the simple creative arts of mending and making-do.”
“At this moment Remade in Brooklyn seems a perfect fit in time and place.”