Circular Podcast with Justin South - Katie Treggiden Skip to content

Circular Podcast with Justin South

Is repair and restoration limited to the things we own? Can it be applied to other facets of our life? How is repair correlated to poverty, and can that change for the betterment of our planet? How is community related to all of this?

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Justin South, a 32-year-old bisexual fashion student. Four years ago, Justin went into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction and has been in recovery ever since. During that time, he has worked with several charities that support recovering addicts and discovered the power of repair – as both a literal skill and a helpful metaphor.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the Thinkers, Doers and Makers of the Circular Economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make, waste, model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Justin South 

I think that mending and repair is primarily important for people who experience different marginalisations and different intersections of marginalisations. So particularly people in poverty, people who are black, people of colour, people who are trans, people are immigrants. It’s those people who get excluded from capitalism, who get excluded from spending huge amounts of money on rent, on housing, on food, and who have to work huge numbers of hours just to get by. And so when you’re struggling just to feed yourself, you have to be able to fix your things.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Justin South is a 32 year old bisexual fashion student. Four years ago, Justin went into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction, and he’s been in recovery ever since. During that time, he’s worked with several charities that help recovering addicts. He’s learned beekeeping with Kairos Community Trust, woodworking and carpentry with Restoration Station, who are part of Spitalfields Crypt Trust and sewing along with psychology skills at Foundation for Change. Having discovered a passion for sewing, Justin is now a first year fashion pattern cutting student at London College of Fashion. He’s also a drag queen by the name of Vaneer and has performed all over London, where his work explores themes of queer identity and mental health issues. In recovery Justin found he wants to offer help to other queer people and so he volunteers with Book 28, a queer library housed within one of Britain’s only LGBTQ plus homeless shelters, and he’s recently become the LGBTQ plus students officer for the University of Arts London.

 

Katie Treggiden 

I would like to start right at the beginning and ask you a little bit about your childhood and how mending and repair showed up in your early life.

 

Justin South 

In my early life, I think that mending and repair probably didn’t play a huge role. I grew up quite middle class, my parents worked full time so we were able to afford reasonably nice stuff. And so I didn’t have a whole massive need to learn how to repair things. I was in the cubs so I’m pretty sure I had a sewing badge during that, but I don’t particularly remember it. I always thought of myself as being a bit more academic, rather than into practical things, which is something that ended up completely changing as I got older.

 

Katie Treggiden 

It’s interesting isn’t it I think we have these things and I think certainly I went to a grammar school, so it was very much you know, you are in the academic box and there was this sense that more creative, more hands on subjects were somehow for less intelligent people, which is just nonsense. You know, having also found myself in this industry, but I think there’s a real hierarchy sometimes between the different things we enjoy or the different things we like to do and I think it’s interesting that you mentioned that you’re from quite a middle class background and therefore mending and repair didn’t necessarily come up and I think it’s another thing that is interestingly, often associated with poverty. You know, we mend something because we can’t afford to buy a new one, rather than because we love that thing or we just want to keep it in our lives, you know, so I think there’s some interesting stuff that I plan to dig into throughout this, this podcast. But you really became involved in repair and restoration specifically at your time at Restoration Station, which was where we first met. Could you tell me a little bit about firstly, what Restoration Station is, what they do and how you came to be involved with them?

 

Justin South 

Yeah, absolutely. So Restoration Station is a part of Spitalfields Cripps Trust, which is a charity that helps recovering addicts and people experiencing homelessness, get housing, recover, stay recovered. They’re really, really great charity and in Shoreditch they have a have a residential rehab and below the rehab is a shop area and an area where they run classes.  And there’s also restoration station, which is part of part of the charity, but also its own independent thing. And restoration station is a wood work and carpentry, furniture repair shop. So people bring in things that they want repaired that they want fixed. And people who are in recovery and people who are living in the rehab, above the shop, people like me.  So I wasn’t living in the rehab, but I came there as a recovering addict. Get taught the skills of how to repair things, even just how to interact with customers, that was a big part of it to me. So Restoration Station is a social enterprise and it relies completely on donations, even on things that we would find in the streets, that we would drag in, fix up and then sell on and all the profits will go back into the charity.

 

Katie Treggiden 

It’s amazing how much furniture is just dumped on the streets of London, isn’t it?

 

Justin South 

Yes absolutely. Particularly, in East London, you wander around and there’s always like, you know, a sofa hanging about or a table or desk, chest of drawers. And if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work in carrying things back, you can absolutely get a treasure trove of items.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And what were some of your favourite things to restore? Can you think of some particular pieces or some particular types of furniture that you particularly enjoyed working on?

 

Justin South 

So the manager of Restoration Station guy named Bernard, he was particularly fond of G plan furniture. So stuff that was, you know, very classic, but very solidly made, but not too intricate, not too worked on, stuff that could take a bit of hammering and a bit of screwing. And so we would often have really beautiful tables, and also really beautiful kind of side tables. So things like ironically, things like drink cabinets were quite popular and these really beautiful items that often because they’ve been built so well in the first place, didn’t actually need that much work. And it was often quite surprising to see that people wouldn’t want them anymore or thought that they were broken beyond repair. And really, they just needed a little bit of sanding, maybe a little bit of glueing in the corners, but others were perfectly fine.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And how did people, because sometimes you were donated furniture, and then you would restore it and sell it, but sometimes people brought in their own furniture to be restored. And how did people react when they saw this sort of lost and broken item restored to its former glory?

 

Justin South 

I think people were really, really surprised, and almost in a in a way that was unbelievable that they couldn’t even envisage this piece coming back to life and you get so used to when something is broken to it being always that way. And for them to see it go from simply being broken to being fixed without any of the inbetween process. I think people got a real kind of shock and surprise and enjoyment out of how different their piece of furniture or whatever it is they brought in looks.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And I think it’s quite a rare and special thing now isn’t it? Often once something’s broken, it just gets thrown away and that’s the end of its life. So to see it sort of heading that way but then being pulled back and becoming something that’s valuable again, I guess must have been quite magical for those people because their object obviously meant something to them, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone to the effort of bringing it into you.

 

Justin South 

And I think there was also you know a bit of a metaphor for the people who came and volunteered and learn things in Restoration Station from going from a life on drugs and alcohol, often people were street homeless, thinking that, you know that they were broken or that there was something inside them that was fundamentally broken. And it just took a little bit of gentle work, a little bit of kindness for people to realise that they weren’t and they could be okay. And then it was really nice seeing that parallel between between items of furniture and also people coming back to life.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s a really beautiful metaphor, actually, that Restoration Station is not only arming you with the skills to sort of go out into the world and rebuild your life, but also this every day, all day, every day, this beautiful metaphor about how something broken can be valuable again.  You’ve also talked to me before about kind of learning that it was okay to make mistakes in that kind of restoration process. Could you talk a little bit about the role that that played in your recovery as well?

 

Justin South 

Yeah, absolutely. So when I was simply a volunteer at Restoration Station, as with everyone who worked, there was a volunteer. And so there was not quite so much this expectation of such a high standard of work. Had we all been professional carpenters and masters of wood work, then a: the people who came to get their furniture fixed would have paid that premium for the experience and the work that’d gone in. But b: that wood would have been this expectation that everything should be perfect and it was learning that it’s okay to mess things up. And it’s not the end of the world. And in recovery that’s a really important lesson to learn that you will have missteps and you will have mistakes, and  things will go wrong. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world, you don’t have to go back to the life that you were leading, you don’t have to go back to drink amd drugs. You can repair, or you can patch it up or sometimes you just, you know, you learn to live with with something that went wrong. And that can be a really difficult lesson to learn. In the same way that occasionally I can remember messing things up in the shop. I remember once, spending ages, sanding down this huge, beautiful table. And then when it came to putting the legs back on the underneath, screwed right through the top of the table and put a screw right through this enormous dining table. I felt awful about it, remember turning to the boss and saying I’m so sorry, I’ve messed this up, have drilled right through it. And he said, Oh, well, never mind, it’s part of the history of the piece now. And it was such a relief to be told that it’s fine.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And I love that idea that just becomes part of that objects story. And I think that’s another lovely metaphor, isn’t it, that we’ve all made mistakes in our lives and, and they just become part of our stories, and we move on and, and learn from them, hopefully and carry on. So yeah, that’s another really powerful metaphor.  Then you’ve got involved with Foundation for Change, tell me a little bit about them, because I’m not familiar with them at all,

 

Justin South 

Foundation for Change are a charity that helps recovering addicts to gain psychology skills that will help them to help themselves. They established with the idea that giving people a basic understanding of psychology of what might be happening in their lives and teaching them would mean that they could then apply these things to themselves rather than just spending six months in therapy, looking at your problems. If you learn some of the some of the background theories and the ideas behind why you might do these things, why you might have turned out the way you have. It can help you to to improve yourself and help you to understand yourself better. And Foundation Changes office is right next to Restoration Station, which is how I first got involved with them. And I took one of their psychology for change courses, which lasted about four months, I believe, and certificate at the end saying I’d completed this course and then later on one of the people have worked Foundation for Change, a woman named Becs started to run a Sewing for Change course. She used to be a seamtress, which was teaching a small group of people. There was only three of us when I took part in it, learning how to sew, learning how to make things, learning how to repair things as well. And I realised that I absolutely loved it. Really, I really enjoyed it. It was just such a really positive space.

 

Katie Treggiden 

I am trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break. And thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen. If you used to feel proud and excited about being a designer maker, about making with your hands, but have started to feel a creeping sense of guilt about putting yet more stuff out into the world. You might want to check out my new masterclass. If the idea of sustainability has started to feel heavy and full of duty, and you wish you could engage with it in a way that feels more light, playful and creative. You might want to check out my new masterclass. If you’ve ever wondered about the potential of waste as a raw material, you definitely want to check out my new master class. Find out more at Katietreggiden.com/masterclass. And if the spelling of my surname has already got your head in a spin, don’t worry, there’s a link in the show notes.

 

sugru 

If you’ve never heard of sugru.com, then you’re in for a treat. It’s the online repair shop for people looking to fix everything from clothes and home wares to kitchen appliances and charging cables. Pickups and Sugru moldable glue along with other innovative products. Fixing is good. It’s good for us and good for the planet.

 

Katie Treggiden 

It’s funny, isn’t it, how sometimes, you know, there’s just luck that we we happen across this thing that defines our life, because you’re now studying fashion pattern cutting at London College of Fashion. So tell me how you went from this tiny little sewing group to a degree?

 

Justin South 

Yeah, when I had finished doing sewing course, I really loved it. And me and the other people on the course have stayed in touch and we have regular chats. And we have little what we call stitch and bitch sessions, which has become much more about the bitch than the stitch!

 

Katie Treggiden 

They always do.

 

Justin South 

And it was quite last minute that I realised that I wanted something more structured in my life. I’d been working in Restoration Station, I’d had this sewing class that had been a few days a week. And when that course finished, I realised I needed. I don’t know, I wanted something more long term, I wanted to have something to look forward to and work out for a long time and decided to apply for a fashion degree. And so I applied to a few different universities across London spent some frantic time trying to put together a portfolio, which included a huge amount of work that I’d done at Restoration Station, actually, to kind of demonstrate that I knew how to plan ideas and put things together. And one of the places that I got accepeted to was the London College of fashion, which is where I’m now studying.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Fantastic. Congratulations. And you’re in your first year is that right? Yes. What role does mending and repair play, if any, in the curriculum so far?

 

Justin South 

So for me in my first year, we’ve learned a lot of the basics of pattern cutting, and it’s been extremely fast paced, which I’ve really enjoyed. Actually, it’s been very much all hands on deck. And I’d say that the role of repairing comes in to having to learn the basics of of how something works. So we’ve been learning how to put together a bodice or skirts for a dress and how to start with the original bodice piece which would be for a certain size and how you can slowly add fabric or take away fabric to shape it as you want. And so from coming from that understanding of the basics, as well, we can then move on to creating our own ideas. And I think,as the course progresses, as I go into my second and third year, I think that repairing and recycling is going to play a huge part in my course.  When I was applying, there was a huge emphasis on how the future of fashion is going to have to change because it creates a huge amount of waste. It creates a huge amount of human rights issues around the world. And it’s something that in its current form is just not sustainable.

 

Katie Treggiden 

That’s really good to hear one of the people I interviewed for my most recent book Wasted, started a fashion degree, probably 5 or 10 years ago now and started raising issues of sustainability and was told that fashion is inherently unsustainable, so you needn’t bother. So I’m glad to hear things are changing. And I’m interested iin the stuff you’re doing outside of sort of extracurricular activities as well. So you’re the part time LGBTQ students officer for the University of the Arts, London, and you also volunteer for Book 28, which is a library specialising in queer literature housed in the outside project. How does all of this knit together? How does some of the lessons you learn about repair at Restoration Station, your time with the Foundation for Change? How have all of these things led you to this work sort of being an advocate for the LGBTQ community? l,

 

Justin South 

During my time at Restoration Station, I went from being the very shy newcomer who didn’t really know much about wood work and everything I approached, I waited for my boss to come along and say, yeah, that’s, that’s the right way to do it, and check with everything. And as time went on, and as worked several years, I felt myself kind of grow in confidence and become the person who would say to other people working there, yep, you can do like this. Yep, that’s fine, you know what you’re doing. And it was really nice to, to progress to kind of be the person who other people were wanting me to be the kind of person who helped other people, and to be the kind of person that I wish, and I was fortunate enough to meet. And it was, during my time that I learned about the outside projects, which is one of the only LGBT plus homeless shelters in the entire country. And it was so nice to hear about a place where LGBT plus people could go and feel safe. And so I wanted to get involved in helping some of the people who lived there, who found themselves having to live there. I did some fundraising for them, I did a bungee jump and raised £500 for them, just amazing fun. And, and I later learned that there was a, an organisation called Book 28, who were setting up a queer library inside outside project. And I was at school during Section 28, when it was illegal to talk about homosexuality and it took me a long time to realise the effects that had on me and still has on me. And so I was very keen to get involved and try you know, create something that I wish had existed when I was growing up, there was no, there was no access to queer literature when I was at school. There was no one to talk to about it. A person behind Book 28, his name is Isa door is doing a Master’s in library studies. And so part of his Master’s is setting up this library. And we recently opened up for donations to kind of improve the space and get all the books we need. And our hope is to one day create a lending service where we can just send out books to people around the country and also do consultancy work for people and saying, you know, this is the kind of thing that you could do to make your space more inclusive,

 

Justin South 

I think that’s really important and I think it’s really interesting to hear. Obviously, this is a podcast primarily about sustainability and the circular economy, but I think it’s really interesting to hear the many, many ways in which society needs mending, you know, and needs repairing and the lessons that we can take from mending a piece of furniture and apply them to mending, you know, accessibility, to books and education and all of those sorts of things. So that’s a really powerful perspective. Thank you. Why do you think mending and repair is so important from a sustainability perspective, though?

 

Justin South 

I think that mending repair is primarily important for people who experience different marginalisation and different intersections of marginalisation. So particularly people in poverty, people who are black people of colour, people who are trans,  people are immigrants. It’s those people who get excluded from capitalism, who get excluded from spending huge amounts of money on rent, on, on housing, on food, and who have to work huge numbers of hours just to get by. And so when you’re struggling, just to feed yourself, you have to be able to fix your things. You know, if your shoes break, if your cupboard breaks, you can’t afford to get something new. And so being able to repair something yourself, not only gives your  things longevity, it helps helps you to afford the things that you really need. And I also think it can bring a huge sense of satisfaction.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. And I think there’s a sense of personal agency isn’t there, when you can fix something for yourself, rather than having to ask for help or, you know, go somewhere else, if you’ve got the skills just to mend that thing and get on with your day and as you say, spend the money you would have had to spend replacing it on more important things, whatever it is you need. And I think it’s really useful that you brought up all those intersections, because I think environmentalism is absolutely intersectional with racism and sexism, and transphobia, and homophobia, and all of those things, you know, there are so many sections of society that are being marginalised, you know, excluded from capitalism, but also excluded from the environmental debate. And so I think it’s really important that when we’re looking at solutions, they need to be solutions that work for everybody. Right? You know, I think so much of environmentalism is sort of only really works if you’re middle class and that’s never going to be the solution . There’s a wonderful quote in a book called All We Can Save, which is an anthology of women writers about the environment. And it says, “to change everything we need everybody”. It’s such a simple way of saying there’s no point just a tiny segment of society working on this, you know, it’s going to be applicable to everybody so thank you for bringing that up.

 

Justin South 

Yeah, I’d say that. fixing things yourself does bring a huge amount of personal satisfaction, but it can also bring a huge amount of community. So in my role as LGBTQ students officer at the University of London, at the moment it’s LGBT plus History Month. And so I’ve been helping to organise a few different workshops for LGBT plus students at the University I have one that’s coming up this week with Foundation for Change, as it happens, it’s going to be talking about queer identity and healing and I have another that’s a makeup social and like a poetry and performance workshop. And so these ideas of of repair and restoration is not just limited to the things that you own. It can be also yourself and having an LGBT plus community. It creates this space where you can be accepted and you can enter your brokenness, as it were, and find within that community a way to heal.

 

Katie Treggiden 

I think that’s really important. Do you think attitudes are changing towards mending and repair? You know, we talked to the beginning about how it was perhaps something that was associated with poverty. You know, it’s almost becoming trendy. Is that helpful? Do you think or do you think that’s perhaps a little bit dangerous?

 

Justin South 

I think that it is helpful, ultimately, that more and more people are getting into restoration or getting into repairing, but I think it will go through a phase of being co adopted by people who do want to make money rather than people who do it from necessity, there will be an element of fashion, as it were, that comes with having things that look broken or look, you know, even the the trend of kind of ripped jeans, it becomes a fashion statement, rather than simply, you cannot afford to buy a new pair of jeans. And it can lend an air of accessibility to these areas to particularly where it creates demand for people who want to know how to do this. For example, we often would have people come into Restoration Station asking if we if we ran classes for people who wanted to learn how to restore things. So I think, yeah, I ultimately think it will be a good thing.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And what do you think the future holds for mending and repair?

 

Justin South 

I think for the future of mending or repair, there’s been a lot of movement around the rights of repair, particularly when it comes to electronic goods. In the EU in America, there have been some recent news stories about people who want the right to repair their electronic equipment. There’s one big, big company that is particularly guilty of making it’s things obsolete after a few years, when in reality, they could be fixed quite easily.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Well, and often you render the warranty invalid by attempting to repair these things, don’t you? So it’s not only that we’re not encouraged to repair them, but we’re actually prevented from repairing them.

 

Justin South 

Yeah, absolutely. And so I think as technology progresses, and becomes more and more accessible, it’s going to become easier for the everyday person who doesn’t have access to huge fancy equipment to repair things quite easily. The rise of things like 3d printing, where it’s now possible that people can buy their own 3d printers, and have them at home, you can quite easily make the item that you need. And as that technology progresses, and it becomes cheaper and more accessible, I think that it’s going to become more prevalent for people to keep things and just keep fixing them and adding bits and customising them to how they want them very specifically to work.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Let’s hope so. Yes, I really hope it goes that way. I think it certainly needs to from a sustainability point of view. So thank you so much for speaking to me, Justin. It’s been a it’s been a true privilege and an honour to get such a, I think just a meaningful perspective on some of this stuff that goes beyond the sort of the functional repairs. So I’m very grateful to you. Thank you.

 

Justin South 

Thank you very much. It’s lovely to speak to you.