Throwing a spanner in the consumerist Christmas

Just about this time of year, we are bombarded with even MORE messages to consume. The emotional blackmail underlying these messages is shocking. We are made to believe that the only way to show love for our family and friends is to give them newer things.

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Instead of going blue in the face complaining about consumerism, we made a greeting card (with a special Christmas edition!) to help you feel empowered to spread the gift of repair. Fixing is caring.

The card was letter-pressed by hand in Brixton by Rachel Stanners, hard-working owner of the charming Pricklepress, a maker who we met through Makerhood.

Cards will be on sale at our events for £3.50 each (or a higher donation), and we will take online orders soon, so watch this space.

We are the “inner circle” of the circular economy

We were privileged to get a slot at TEDx Brixton in July and we thought we would try to  say something that has been on our minds for a while.

The global conversation for sustainability in manufacturing is shifting to the “circular economy”, like at Davos, where the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has promoted the concept and the opportunities for companies in this field. Up until now, the focus of the circular economy has been primarily on design products for easier disassembling and recycling – the outer circle – which implies creating a closed loop of materials and in the case of electronics, recovering metals in our gadgets.

This is something only feasible at scale, something the big companies can profit from. The mainstream activities of the outer circle of the circular economy – shredding and melting — are very energy intensive, and the jury is out about how efficient they are. But more importantly, this kind of “outer circle” is hard for people to relate to on a human scale.

The “inner circles” of repair and reuse seem to have been fairly mute in these public discussions on the “circular economy”. For us, these are the circles where we can approach a future economy on a human scale: making sure that the products we buy are more repairable, long-lasting by focusing on creating local opportunities flourish for repair, reuse and refurbishing. This is where we can transform our reality.

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The most #ethicalmob

At The Restart Project, our favourite – and surprisingly uncommon – message is:

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We were amused to have dozens of friends and supporters sending us the Phonebloks video a few weeks ago. It is a very compelling concept for a modular, upgradeable mobile phone – inspired by Legos and very well communicated. It is a great idea, but it will remain a charming design fiction until a whole lot of things change in the electronics industry. Continue reading

A repairable Fairphone

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This post was first published as a guest post on the Fairphone blog.

Two weeks ago we ran a workshop in the Fairphone Pop-Up Shop as part of London Design Festival. We were invited to create a participatory event built around the latest prototype of the Fairphone, the first smartphone designed and produced with transparency and fairness in mind.

Our organisation promotes a positive change in people’s relationship with electronics: regaining control of the devices we own, by learning to take them apart, troubleshoot them, repair them and prolong their life span. When it comes to mobiles, our motto is that “the most ethical phone is the one you already have,” meaning that we should always try our best to make the most of the devices we have before thinking of upgrading.

It comes as no surprise that we decided to perform a “gentle teardown” of the Fairphone, to investigate whether the ethical direction of the project is also reflected in a design for durability and repairability. Even before dismantling the phone, we already appreciated that the device is Dual SIM, expandable with microSD and with user-replaceable battery. But we wanted to find out more.

Five Restarters took apart the Fairphone, sharing the experience with 15 other participants and a few Fairphone staff members, answering our questions as we made progress. Here is what we found out.

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Smarter Phones or Smarter Citizens?

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Volunteers from The Restart Project take apart a Fairphone prototype to learn about its design and repairability

It looks like it’s business as usual for mobile manufacturers, providers and “enthusiasts”. In the past few days, we have once again witnessed a typical set of events: first of all, new versions of an iconic smartphone get unveiled, followed by an extraordinary round of hype and media attention – like there is no tomorrow, and not other news to write or blog about.

In the meantime, more mobile providers around the world launch new fancy contracts, designed to allow customers to change their mobile as often as they want, so that when they get tired of the latest and the greatest, they can move on and find (temporary) relief in a new gadget.

Unsurprisingly, and yet unsettlingly, we are then shown one more time videos of customers queueing for hours, for days, to be the first to touch and buy the latest smartphone.

However, there is also another world out there, and we are happy to report it is growing steadily: more and more people are getting increasingly frustrated with the throwaway culture endlessly marketed to them.

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Beyond fixing: taking apart and tinkering

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We’ve got an interesting couple of events planned for coming weeks, beyond the usual frenzy of activity of Restart Parties from Dalston to rural Wales, and our workshop to help others replicate our model.

We’re partnering with Fairphone at London Design Festival (September 19) and some friends to run some fun sessions at Mozilla Festival (October 25-27).

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Building a new economy, one repair at a time

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This week the Transition Network‘s Reconomy Project featured us along with 19 other fantastic projects in their newly published report: “The New Economy in 20 Enterprises”.

We were delighted to be selected among such inspiring innovators striving to invent new meaningful local economies: reskilling and creating jobs in our communities, while developing much needed services and products truly respectful of the environment. As the Transition Town movement has been advocating for a long time, achieving real change in our communities also requires creating new livelihoods for people, in food production as well as in transport services, renewable energy and retail.

Where do we fit in this picture? Repair and reuse of small electrical and electronics have been neglected for a long time, replaced by a throw-away culture and often wasteful recycling. In just over a year, with almost no funding and no paid staff members, we have demonstrated that a different approach in not only possible, but it is necessary and a lot of fun too.

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