At Make & Mend, a retail storefront located in Somerville, heaps and heaps of gently used craft supplies — from vintage fabrics to colored pencils to embroidery floss — are primed for a second life.
Local artist Emily S. Tirella founded Make & Mend in 2017, inspired by her encounters with waste at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “I was spending a ridiculous amount of money on materials that could be reused year after year,” she remembers. Instead of purchasing supplies every year, she began saving her used supplies.
Tirella’s idea for Make & Mend was inspired by a similar secondhand craft store in Ohio, which she stumbled across on Instagram. She soon realized her store could solve two problems: meet the need for inexpensive art supplies, as well as reduce the amount of used materials that are tossed in good condition. After that day, the supplies she collected each semester became part of an inventory.
Now, the store’s supply consists of much more than just Tirella’s own donations — it receives donations of craft supplies from artists across the country. Make & Mend hopes to do for the arts world what thrifting has done for fashion; like many other second hand stores popping up across the country, it aims to promote accessibility and sustainability.
Tirella explains that many people who donate see it as a relief. When crafters buy fresh art supplies, she says, they are often new and shiny in a way that can feel intimidating. Many crafters have a tendency to leave brand-new supplies unused, stocked away for the perfect opportunity that never seems to come. Donating their supplies to a store like Make & Mend, Tirella says, alleviates “that guilt of l purchasing creative materials and never using them, or throwing away something that's perfectly good. It gives you a place to feel good about that.” “Free your burden of creativity past and donate them to us!” reads the Make & Mend website.
On top of that, Tirella says, instead of sending their beloved sewing kits and paint brushes off to a landfill, people enjoy being able to contribute to something greater than themselves: a sustainable and innovative community, a movement. The secondhand supplies are resold for about 50 percent off, making them accessible to an entirely new demographic who may never have been able to pursue creative hobbies with high-quality tools and materials.
Make & Mend began with a few pop-up events in Boston in early 2018 and has grown steadily since then. Tirella opened her first brick and mortar store at Somerville’s Bow Market in May of 2018. It took time to grow a community of donors and shoppers alike, but by 2020, Make & Mend was beginning to outgrow its 160-square-foot space. Throughout the pandemic, Tirella and her team bounced around, finding a home in Joy Street Studios and then a warehouse. Because it was unsafe to host in-person shopping or events during this time, Tirella leaned into the shop’s online presence. Now, as Make & Mend enters its fifth year of business, it’s relaunching in-person shopping again at a new space in Somerville.
It’s not by way of luck that Make & Mend has managed to grow even throughout the pandemic. Tirella’s success is built on a larger movement of people who are increasingly conscious about the ethics of their consumption — a movement that’s especially active in Cambridge. At the same time that Tirella opened in Bow Market in 2018, the City of Cambridge expanded its composting program to include over 25,000 households. The year before, bfresh opened a location in Somerville to provide bulk and package-free groceries. A year later, Cleenland opened up in Central Square as “a low-waste, no shame store” that sells refillable personal and home care supplies.
But at Make & Mend, Tirella promotes accessibility and sustainability at the same time. “Everyone can see a benefit in what we do if they have a crafty mindset,” she says. “There's so much waste that goes into creating art supplies in general, so if you can get something that's already in the supply stream, it just makes it feel so much better.” With every second life granted to the inventory at Make & Mend, a new artist is given a chance to make something of their own.
— Magazine writer Francesca J. Barr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.