Meet the Restart Project: A pioneering community of fixing activists
WE CHAT TO CO-FOUNDER JANET GUNTER
The Restart Project’s goal is to reduce waste by empowering more people to repair electronics. Founded by two fixers and activists in London a few years ago, they’re steadily expanding their network internationally now. We’re particularly inspired by their Fixometer, which they’ve developed to start tracking the impact they’re making as a community. We caught up with co-founder Janet Gunter to hear all about Restart and the exciting work they’re doing as well as their upcoming FixFest event.
Q. How has the Restart Project evolved since you launched 5 years ago?
We continue to run our own events, but we’re seeing ourselves becoming more of a source of help, information and tools for those who want to start run community electronics repair events in their own communities. We’ve built a piece of software, affectionately known as The Fixometer, which helps track and quantify the positive impacts of repair, but is also gathering evidence about the system-level barriers to repair and product longevity. Underpinning this work is a belief that we can help unite repair groups around the world, and start to track and share our collective impact. Oh and we’re working with pioneering educators to bring repair to school.
Q. Why do you think it’s so important to quantify the impact that fixing things can have on our throwaway culture?
In an age of climate change, people are very aware of the impacts of travel, energy consumption on the planet. But our consumption seems like the last frontier in terms of awareness. So much of our carbon footprints come from the things we consume. We’re not expecting everybody to become monks tomorrow - but through quantifying the impacts of repair, we are building carbon literacy and generating public concern can hopefully translate into action by individuals and companies. Next we’ll be looking at water and minerals that go into our gadgets, as these are other totally hidden impacts, with real consequences for people and the planet.
Q. What do you think are the challenges of getting people to join the fixing revolution?
For most people, the biggest challenge is just overcoming nerves related to fixing. We’re told that we are not supposed to open, or even alter the products we own. But these attitudes are all relatively new! We like to think that repair is “once and future common sense”. The commercial repair sector used to provide role models and remind us that things can be repaired. Repair shops used to be reminders on every high street. And we no longer have these. There may not be a business model for many repairs, but with time, care, practice and the right equipment many repairs are still possible. And often times, repairs can be so simple, involving cleaning, replacing a wire or a plug, or simply doing a reset on a device.
Q. Who do you feel are the heroes of the fixing movement?
Well there are quite a few Youtuber heroes of the repair movement. Then there’s iFixit, that is rallying people to share information and help each other online. There are the John Deere tractor owners who have been fighting for the right to repair their tractors, they have been great heroes. But generally we need more real role models, not made-for-TV segments, but real commercial repairers (like Steve the Spindoctor), hobbyists, volunteers, especially women. We think that every street has a repair hero, just sometimes they do not have a way of sharing their skills. (This is part of the reason we started hosting Restart Parties.)
Q. We hear you’re going to be throwing a pretty special Restart party in October - tell us more about FixFest?
We’ve invited community repair activists from all over the world to come share experiences, ideas and talk about what systemic changes are needed so we can keep the products we own for longer. At the London School of Economics, our “Fixfest", 6-8 October, will be the first event of its kind - and we certainly hope not the last. It will feature a Saturday night Restart Party at the Museum of London, with activists from Argentina, Canada, Norway and Tunisia, and from right here in the UK.
Q. Any books, films or exhibitions you can recommend to get the Sugru community even more fired up about fixing?
If you have not watched Wall-E any time soon, it never seems to become less relevant and less moving. One book that we find super inspiring is Todd McClennan’s “Things Come Apart” - it’s images of carefully “exploded” versions of every day gadgets. It’s a great coffee table book and a conversation-starter. For more, we publish yearly summer reading lists, full of great suggestions. And if you like listening, we have a weekly podcast.
Janet, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, and keep up the amazing work!