The idea was originally conceived in 2009 by Martine Postma, a Dutch journalist, who began with the idea that we could reduce what we put in landfills by taking the time and energy to repair rather than replace. There are now over 1100 Repair Cafés in 30 countries, all operated on a volunteer basis.
The premise is simple: the Café furnishes all the tools and materials one might need to repair or mend a wide variety of household items, including clothes, bicycles, furniture and electrical appliances. People who need things repaired are paired with specialists with an emphasis on teaching the owner how to repair the item.
The process is meant to transcend a mere market transaction. Those seeking repairs do not just come by and drop off a broken item, only to pick it up later. The visitor and a specialist sit down together, explore the problem, and devise a solution. By spending time together, those who need repairs and those who know how to do them create a community and transfer knowledge between neighbors and sometimes between generations.
This process is also meant to be a provocation: the culture created within a repair café encourages people to think differently about the items of their everyday life. Instead of immediately throwing something away and buying a new one, people (especially the younger generation) are exposed to an alternative. Many household items are easily repaired if you have the skills and the tools. The process therefore engenders both ecological and social benefits in the setting of a relaxed café.