While Rugged Thread, a growing outdoor gear repair shop in Bend, Oregon, officially formed in 2011, it’s fair to argue that it got its start several years prior when its founder and CEO, Kim Kinney, was just 13 years old. This is when Kim learned how to sew, a skill that would ultimately combine with her love of the outdoors. 

At 18, Kim started working at the tailor shop at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah. By 20, she owned the shop, renaming it Wasatch Design. She skied every day while also repairing, designing, and manufacturing ski gear and outerwear at the shop until 1997. Back in Oregon, she completed her higher education at Oregon State University–Cascades while building what has become Rugged Thread today: the transformation of broken outdoor gear into a new repair economy.

Interview With Josie Kinney on Sustainability and Gear Repair

We caught up with another member of the Rugged Thread team, Josie Kinney, to learn more about the company’s mission and vision for the future of gear repair. Josie has worked with Rugged Thread since 2018 doing a little bit of everything (except sewing!), including managing their partner relations, operations, sales and marketing, and accounting.

Gossamer Gear: Let’s dive right into the big questions! Why does Rugged Thread exist and what do you do?

Josie: Our mission at Rugged Thread is to convert outdoor industry waste into a new economy. We work with individuals, brands, and retailers to repair technical outdoor clothing and gear, such as tents, backpacks, jackets, sleeping bags, motorcycle gear, skiwear, and all types of zippers. Kim is the founder and CEO of Rugged Thread and she originally started the company out of her garage in 2011. Her passion is to change the stigma of sewing as a career path.

Why has Rugged Thread chosen repair projects in particular?

The psychology of repair is interesting at the individual and corporate levels. There are typically three reasons why people choose to repair over replace, which we call the three E’s: economic, environmental, and emotional.

Economically, it just makes sense for most items. Technical gear is expensive, and it is usually cheaper to repair rather than replace.

Secondly, repairing gear reduces the environmental burden on the planet. The U.S. throws “away” 16 million tons of textiles every year [1]. That’s hard to visualize, but it is the equivalent of one garbage truck every second [2]. It’s also important to remember that outdoor-specific clothing and gear is primarily derived from petrochemicals that take up to 200 years to break down, and which leach harmful chemicals into our waterways and soils in the meantime. The good news is that extending the life of an item by an extra nine months reduces carbon, water, and waste footprints by around 20 to 30 percent each [3].

Lastly, people get attached to their favorite items. Gear tells the stories of the adventures they’ve been on, and some gear just can’t be replaced. For example, Joan and Richard came to us with their first tent that they bought together shortly after getting married and, now, 50 years later, they are still using it and choosing to get it repaired.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/textiles-material-specific-data

[2] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy

[3] https://wrap.org.uk/resources/report/valuing-our-clothes-cost-uk-fashion

Can you tell us a little about what brought you, personally, to Rugged Thread and why the company’s work is important to you?

In college, I majored in environmental studies and thought I was going to pursue a career in conservation. I came back home to Bend about a year after graduating and started working part-time for Rugged Thread. I quickly realized that working at Rugged Thread filled my desire to reduce the environmental impact on the planet. To date, we’ve kept over 50,000 pounds of textiles out of the landfill, and that feels amazing!

As you know, our motto here at Gossamer Gear is “take less. do more.” In what ways do you think our partnership together helps put that motto into action?

It’s a great motto to live by, really! The partnership between Gossamer Gear and Rugged Thread embodies the idea of buying only what you need, using what you buy, and repairing when damaged. It is inspiring to work with Gossamer Gear because of their commitment to repair—even if it’s not a warranty issue. They will subsidize any repair through Rugged Thread by offering a 30% discount (up to $30). For example, if someone rips the bottom of their Mariposa pack and sends it to Rugged Thread for repair, we automatically apply the discount at checkout. It’s a cool program that literally helps people take less and do more.

What are the different ways a customer can interact with Rugged Thread?

We do repairs for individuals nationwide on everything from backpacks to jackets, tents, skiwear, sleeping bags, and motorcycle gear. People can get a quote on our website, then mail in their item for repair. It typically takes about three weeks (not including shipping) to get your item back.

We also work with brands like Gossamer Gear to repair warranty and non-warranty issues. Rugged Thread also offers “Design for Repair” workshops for brands and designers who want to design their products for greater durability and repairability.

Lastly, we offer some tips and tricks for do-it-yourself (DIY) repair and gear maintenance. It’s valuable to know how to stitch up a rip or change your zipper slider, especially while on trail.

How do you hope to see Rugged Thread—and the outdoor industry as a whole—expand into the future?

As a whole, I’d like to see the outdoor industry become a circular economy. The term “circularity” often gets thrown around, but it’s a big endeavor that includes everything from designing for repair, to using greener materials, using sustainable manufacturing processes, upcycling, repairing, and recycling. In short, the lifecycle of clothing and gear should be a cycle rather than a linear trip to the landfill. Repairing isn’t the only piece in the puzzle, but it is an important aspect.

For Rugged Thread, specifically, we are on a scaling plan that takes us from repairing 9,000 items a year in 2022 to 15,000 items a year in 2024. Eventually, we would love to develop a co-op of repair facilities across the nation that can share supplies, workload, and training. We are constantly hiring and training, so if you or anyone you know is interested in working with us, we would love to hear from you!

Join the Repair Economy to Give Your Gear—and Our Planet—a New Chapter

Ready to give new life to your old gear? Make sure to check out Rugged Thread’s website for more information on their services. You can also reach out to us at Gossamer Gear with any questions at: support@gossamergear.com!

Curious what else we’re doing at Gossamer Gear as part of our sustainability efforts? Make sure to check out our Sustainability Page for the latest.
September 29, 2022 — Korrin Bishop