Duluth shop owner sews up outdoor clothing repairs

Nils Anderson specializes in zipper fixes at Great Lakes Gear Exchange. "Beyond the financial incentive, I think for a lot of people, it’s a sentimental thing," he said.

Man at sewing machine.
Nils Anderson sews a new zipper in a jacket June 27. “If you have gear or clothing that's intended to help you live and enjoy Minnesota, eventually, something’s going to go wrong,” he said.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

DULUTH — For Anders Hanson, the outdoors is his office and his playground.

Anders Hanson.jpg
Anders Hanson

When he's not outside educating folks as an interpretive naturalist, he’s fishing, biking, camping or skiing. So, what he wears is often paramount to what he does.

“I get super attached to items that I use a lot because I like how they fit into my wardrobe/layering schemes. As a result, I wear things hard and often need to repair them,” said Hanson.

Enter Nils Anderson.

The owner of Duluth’s outdoor clothing and equipment consignment shop, Great Lakes Gear Exchange , offers zipper repairs on Nordic skate boots, bike bags, ankle gaiters, jackets, tents and much more.


Anderson has repaired a couple of fanny pack zippers and stitched up shorts Hanson tore in mountain bike crashes.

Getting these items patched and fixed saves Hanson time trying to find a replacement, and the sustainability impact is an obvious win, he said, adding: “Repair shops are few and far between these days and are an awesome asset to the outdoor community.”

Closeup of sewing machine.
Nils Anderson feeds a jacket and a new zipper through his sewing machine.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

On a late June morning, Anderson sat at his industrial sewing machine, pinning a jacket zipper in place before running it under the needle.

“If you have gear or clothing that's intended to help you live and enjoy Minnesota, eventually, something’s going to go wrong,” he said.

In the back corner of the shop, there were spools of thread and hanging zippers in lemon, lime, violet, blue and black, and a plastic storage bin with tiny labeled drawers.

Pins in a holder.
Pins and a presser foot sits on Nils Anderson's sewing machine.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

In the past year, Anderson has completed about 300 repairs, and they’re most often for folks’ personal use rather than on gear the shop is selling.

Anderson grew up in Two Harbors before majoring in environmental learning center studies. He went on to teach a naturalist training program at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota; at Yosemite National Park; and the Minnesota Zoo.

Off from seasonal jobs, he began working at Repair Lair in Minneapolis.


Man standing in a store.
Great Lake Gear Exchange owner Nils Anderson talks with a visitor in the business’s store area . His elevated repair area is visible in the background.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Learning to navigate the sewing machine was a transition. Simple maneuvers are not intuitive, and the machine has a big motor and a lot of power.

It’s easy for fabric to pucker or fold over accidentally, he said.

With time, Anderson learned how much pressure to apply for consistent speed, and the key ingredient: Steady wins the race.

Anderson started offering repairs at the Great Lakes Gear Exchange in August. A month later, he purchased the store from founders Brooke Wetmore and Emily Richey.

New zippers hang by Nils Anderson’s sewing machine.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

While he has tools and parts for repairing snaps, buckles and straps, the steadiest demand is in zippers, which makes it the most sustainable focus.

Before accepting a repair, he meets with folks to go through options, hear preferences, gauge the depth of the repair, color choices and price points.

Involved repairs cost more, but it’s often a five-minute fix, which can cost about $15.

For what Anderson can’t repair, he refers folks to other local people in the trade.


He also accepts donations, which he uses in other jobs.

“Rather than buying buckles and worrying about them paying off, I just harvest things,” he said.

Anderson referred to an old Granite Gear pack in the shop that he’s used to repair a number of items. And, that pack just keeps on living, he said.

“We all know how hard it is to find the right piece of attire that fits perfectly, and over the years develop a relationship with that piece of clothing. So, even beyond the financial incentive, I think for a lot of people, it’s a sentimental thing.”

Pawel Waszczuk smiles for a selfie.
Pawel Waszczuk
Contributed by Pawel Waszczuk

Pawel Waszczuk works the gear exchange storefront, approving and taking in consignments and helping customers. He said it’s “incredibly special” to have repair services here.

“It's a beautiful thing to see the outdoor community work together to keep gear out of landfills, keep the wilderness clean and accessible, and educate one another about the outdoors.”


Spools of thread.
Sewing threads in a range of colors sit near Nils Anderson’s sewing machine.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Nils Anderson.
Nils Anderson.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
The nonprofit will host a farewell celebration Sunday for the program that offered academic and life skills education.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346,
What to read next
Members Only
Two weeks before he died, Scott Olson’s hospice nurse asked him if there was anything he wanted to do before his final days. His wish was to go fishing.
Forty years ago the Minnesota founders of Pheasants Forever — from the metropolitan area and from Kandiyohi County — met on the shores of Eagle Lake north of Willmar and agreed to the local control model that the organization continues today. The surviving founders of that meeting returned to Eagle Lake to visit about the organization's start and how they made that critical decision.
Members Only
Fishing might have been tough in the preceding days, but apparently these walleyes hadn’t gotten the memo. We enjoyed walleye action that was nearly nonstop on this balmy Thursday in August.
David Rokser battled the fish for more than 2.5 hours before beaching it on the rocks.