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