Katherine Hayes ’92 is the founder of Fixity, a business that helps keep broken, but repairable household items out of landfills
In her basement workshop, Katherine Hayes ’92 examines a pair of jeans that have a broken zipper. A customer brought the pants to Fixity, the St. Paul–based business Hayes founded to repair and repurpose common household items. Most of us would just buy a new pair, and that’s the attitude Hayes wants to change.
“Our culture encourages us to throw things away instead of fixing them,” she says, as she realigns the zipper’s teeth with the help of pliers. “The less resourceful we are, the more manufacturers can sell us new products. I love the challenge of fixing something rather than replacing it.”
Not all of her fixes are as practical as repairing a zipper in a pair of jeans. Customers also bring her things that have sentimental value and can’t be replaced. “I get a lot of music boxes that people have had since they were children. I love helping people preserve their family heirlooms,” says Hayes, who will try to fix anything from small electronics to clothing and jewelry, but draws the line at motherboards and motors. “People tell me, ‘I don’t know if this is worth fixing,’ and I say, ‘It’s always worth trying to fix something.’ ”
When Hayes established Fixity as a social enterprise in 2011, she quickly found herself at the forefront of a growing global movement to curb consumerism. According to the Fixity website, “each Minnesotan produces more than 2,000 pounds of waste each year. It is estimated that in the next 10 to 20 years, if we continue our current waste production trends, we may exhaust our available landfill space. It is [Fixity’s] goal to help clients fix things in order to increase product lifespan and keep more items out of landfills.”
In May 2012 an article appeared in the New York Times about Repair Cafés, a community-based concept that began in the Netherlands and spread across Europe and into the United States. Inspired by these cafés, staff members at Hennepin County’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Unit began holding Fix-It Clinics once a month around Hennepin County, and they recruited Hayes to participate. Using the same model, Hayes has begun to offer Fix and Repair Everything Events (FREE) in St. Paul. “At the FREE clinics, I work with other volunteers to help community members fix their broken items at no cost or teach them how to fix things themselves,” Hayes says.
Along with her volunteer efforts, Hayes maintains a small office in St. Paul’s Crocus Hill neighborhood, not far from her workshop in the turn-of-the-century home she shares with husband Jim, their kids—Tysen, 7, and Sevona, 9—and two dogs. (Jim was assistant men’s basketball coach at Carleton from 2004 to 2011, and is now head coach at Hamline University in St. Paul.) In the white van she bought on Craigslist and branded with the Fixity logo, Hayes provides pickup and delivery services when necessary and hauls items to her workshop, which houses an industrial-strength sewing machine, large-scale jewelry buffer, and 30 kinds of pliers.
Although Fixity may appear to be an unlikely leap from Hayes’s former career as an index fund manager, she says her business was the result of several years of soul-searching. “I was good at what I did, but I needed to find my passion,” says Hayes, who discovered her dream job three years ago during a visit to her grandparents’ home in Florida. When her husband saw her scrubbing away at a water-stained lampshade with bleach and a toothbrush, he suggested they just buy a new one. “I told him, ‘I love to fix things,’ and the moment I said it, I knew it was true,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to fix things for a living?’
“When I developed the business model, I saw that, in addition to the opportunity for personal satisfaction, the business had great green potential: keeping things out of landfills,” she says. “As an index fund manager, I couldn’t fix the economy, so I wanted to tackle something that I could fix.”
As an added bonus, Hayes is using the metalworking and shop skills she learned as a studio art major at Carleton, where she focused on jewelry design. She also credits Carleton with teaching her how to identify and respond to the needs of our culture in this present moment: “Carleton nurtures a mindset of ‘you can always do more.’ With Fixity, I want to give something back to my community, and make a difference for the planet.”