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'Fixer' movement fights today's throw-away society one tinker session at a time

Everything old is new again at the West Seattle Fixers Collective. From sewing machines to fans to lawn mowers, if it's broke, they'll try to fix it.

"It's just a group of us that like to get together and help each other fix whatever we own," said Greg Kono, who runs the group, which meets on the first Thursday of every month.

The concept started several years ago in the Netherlands, where people would come together about once a month, meet over coffee and bring in items they would like to have repaired. Members would learn how to fix the items or watch other volunteers who are handy and know how.

There are now more than 30 of these "repair cafes" in the Netherlands, and it’s picking up steam in the United States, with a handful of groups scattered across the country from Seattle to New York.

"I like the idea of reusing something that has already had a life, has already been built, already created most of its environment footprint," said Seattle group member Chris Loeffler, who brought his lawn mower in to be fixed.

And members say that's the idea of their groups: Repair and reuse instead of giving in to today's "throw it away society," where items are tossed in the trash as soon as they break or a newer version comes out.

The recession was also a factor.

“I think the throw-away culture motivates a lot of us to come here and just try to fight it," said Vincent Lai, director of the Brooklyn Fixers Collective in New York. “The economy definitely played a role.”

Along with saving some money, fixers say it also helps reduce waste.

"Everything has built-in obsolescence, and the minute it breaks or the minute the newest gadget comes out, people have to get the new one and throw the old one away,” said Kate McBennis, who brought a floor fan to a meeting of the Brooklyn group. "And we don't have to live like that, you know. It's expensive and what are we doing to the planet?"

"It's just really rewarding to have a success story coming out, and even the things we don't succeed in fixing, it's a learning experience to get things taken apart and see how they function and see what's wrong with it," Kono said.

Joining most of these groups are free, or they charge just around $5 to rent out the meeting space.

Over in Europe, some of these groups have been able to raise as much as a half million dollars with money from the government, foundations and private donors.

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