DULUTH — For Anders Hanson, the outdoors is his office and his playground.
When he’s not outdoors educating people as an interpretive naturalist, he’s fishing, biking, camping, or skiing. Thus, what he wears is often paramount to what he does.
“I’m very attached to items that I use a lot because I love how they fit into my wardrobe/layering schemes. As a result, I wear hard things and often need to fix them,” Hanson said.
Enter Nils Anderson.
Owner of Duluth outdoor clothing and gear consignment store, Great Lakes Gear Exchange, offers zipper repairs on Nordic skate boots, bike bags, gaiters, jackets, tents And much more.
Anderson mended a few fanny pack zippers and stitched up some shorts that Hanson ripped in mountain bike crashes.
Getting these items fixed and repaired saves Hanson time trying to find a replacement, and the impact on durability is a clear win, he said, adding: “Repair shops are rare in our days and are a tremendous asset to the outdoor community.”
One morning in late June, Anderson sat at his industrial sewing machine, pinning a jacket zipper in place before putting it under the needle.
“If you have gear or clothing that is meant to help you live and enjoy Minnesota, eventually something is going to go wrong,” he said.
In the back corner of the shop were thread spools and hanging zippers in lemon, lime, purple, blue, and black, and a plastic storage bin with tiny labeled drawers.
Over the past year, Anderson has done about 300 repairs, and they’re most often for people’s personal use rather than store-sold gear.
Anderson grew up in Two Harbors before majoring in environmental learning center studies. He then taught a naturalist training program at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota; at Yosemite National Park; and the Minnesota Zoo.
Out of seasonal jobs, he started working at Repair Lair in Minneapolis.
Learning to navigate the sewing machine was a transition. Simple maneuvers aren’t intuitive, and the machine has a big engine and lots of power.
It’s easy for the fabric to crease or fold up accidentally, he said.
Over time, Anderson learned the pressure to apply for consistent speed and the key ingredient: stability wins the race.
Anderson began offering repairs at the Great Lakes Gear Exchange in August. A month later, he bought the store from founders Brooke Wetmore and Emily Richey.
While it has tools and parts to repair snaps, buckles, and straps, the most consistent demand is for zippers, making it the most durable lens.
Before accepting a repair, he meets with people to go over options, hear preferences, gauge depth of repair, color choices and pricing.
The repairs involved cost more, but it’s often a five-minute fix, which can cost around $15.
For what Anderson can’t fix, he refers people to other local people in the trade.
He also accepts donations, which he uses in other jobs.
“Rather than buying loops and worrying about them paying off, I’m just harvesting stuff,” he said.
Anderson referenced an old Granite Gear pack in the store which he used to repair a number of items. And, this pack lives on, he says.
“We all know how difficult it is to find the right garment and over the years to develop a relationship with that garment. So even beyond the financial incentive, I think for a lot of folks, it’s a sentimental thing.
Pawel Waszczuk works in the hardware exchange storefront, approving and accepting shipments and assisting customers. He said it was “incredibly special” to have repair services here.
“It’s a great thing to see the outdoor community working together to keep gear out of landfills, keep the wilderness clean and accessible, and educate each other about the outdoors.”