Founded in 2021 by Thami Schweichler, the United Repair Centre is a Dutch for-profit social enterprise that specializes in clothing repair. With rising numbers of clothing waste and rising numbers of refugees in the Netherlands, the United Repair Centre’s strategy prevents clothing waste while providing support to refugees in the Netherlands.
Replacing damaged but reparable clothes with new clothes results in unnecessary expenses and, on a large scale, the disposal of clothes has both environmental and health impacts. Overall, the World Economic Forum says the clothing industry accounts for about a tenth of man-made CO2 emissions, and oftentimes, the clothes that people discard are disposed of via burning, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.
Moreover, the cotton used to produce various items of clothing, such as jeans and t-shirts, requires significant amounts of water that people could otherwise use to meet their clean drinking water needs. In fact, in just half a century, the massive uptick of cotton production in Uzbekistan caused almost the entire Aral Sea (actually a lake) to dry up, the World Economic Forum says.
However, by working with large-scale clothing companies such as Patagonia, Lululemon and Decathlon to repair damaged articles of clothing, the United Repair Centre is reducing clothing waste and reducing the demand for new clothing that puts a strain on environmental resources.
Support to Refugees in the Netherlands
In 2022, the Netherlands saw a significant influx of refugees. More specifically, in 2021, the total population of refugees in the Netherlands stood at just under 100,000. But, in 2022, that number increased to almost 220,000, with the majority of refugees coming from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, where there are ongoing humanitarian crises. Starting over in a new country with nothing but the bags on their backs, refugees face several barriers when arriving in a host country. Apart from difficult living conditions in overcrowded asylum accommodations with limited access to health care, education and other essential resources, refugees struggle to secure paid work to move toward financial stability.
Recognizing these adversities, the United Repair Centre endeavors to help by supporting refugees in the Netherlands. The center hires refugees as employees, offering positions to both those with relevant work experience in their former home countries and those with no previous experience. For those with no experience, the center offers on-the-job training. The center intends to launch an officially certified training course in clothing repair work so that refugees have higher chances of securing future employment with a qualification.
As of July 2023, the United Repair Centre employs 20 full-time workers who are either “economic migrants or refugees.” In addition to providing vocational opportunities, the United Repair Centre also helps its employees adjust to the new host country by pointing them to essential services such as free language classes, legal support and housing services. One such employee benefiting from the support of the center is a Syrian refugee named Ramzi, who uses the opportunities given to him by the United Repair Centre to support his family.
As the humanitarian crises around the world continue, the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers continue to rise. The challenges for these people do not end once they have successfully sought asylum in a new country. Refugees and asylum seekers face barriers that include social and cultural integration and a lack of access to adequate health care, education, employment and other critical resources and services necessary for a prosperous life. In this regard, the United Repair Centre offers a lifeline of support to refugees in the Netherlands by providing them with vocational opportunities and assistance in integrating into a new country. In the process of doing so, the center helps to save the environment by repairing damaged clothes, which reduces clothing waste and production. As the United Repair Centre continues to expand as a for-profit social enterprise, the enterprise’s impact will continue to grow.
– Athan Yanos