This week we bring you an interview with Alexandre Isaac, the founder of The Repair Academy, a Toulouse, France organization that specializes in cutting-edge repair training including courses in micro-soldering which give trained repairers the ability to conduct discrete repairs to device motherboards. In true “Steve Jobs” fashion: Alexandre started Repair Academy out of his parents’ garage as a university student in 2019 and has grown it into profitable business that works with French companies to refurbish discarded laptops, tablets, phones and other devices - keeping them out of the landfill.
I met up with Alexandre on the sidelines of FixFest 2022, an annual gathering of repairers and right to repair advocates in Brussels, Belgium. Alexandre was there to do a presentation on the practice of parts pairing - in which device manufacturers use software locks to bind replaceable parts to specific devices.
Parts pairing is a growing impediment to Alexandre’s work refurbishing devices: erecting hurdles to even simple repairs such as replacing iPhone screens or home buttons, or replacing damaged components on motherboards. It also poses an existential risk to repair businesses: degrading the quality and increasing the labor costs associated with independent repair in ways that can drive small, independent repair shops out of business entirely.
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In this conversation, Alexandre and I talk about Repair Academy and the how parts pairing is eating away at the ability of independent repair shops to operate. We also talk about the bigger issues around sustainability and how major brands stand to benefit by selling their customers well built, repairable and endurable products, rather than disposable tech that clogs landfills and pollutes the environment.
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Alexandre Isaac: My name is Alexandre Isaac. I'm 24. I'm the owner of The Repair Academy, a training center and uh, a factory to repair phones and tablets and computers.
Paul Roberts (Fight to Repair): So you gave a presentation here at Fix Fest, yesterday talking about how you started Repair Factory really out of your garage as a teenager and have grown it into a standalone business in the process. Also getting your degree.
Alexandre Isaac: Yeah.
Paul Roberts (Fight to Repair): So talk about what Repair Factory does.
Alexandre Isaac: So when the company every year leases, every two or three years they lease, a thousand; 2,000; 10,000 computers, smartphones, they change it.
So they have to get all those computers somewhere. So either they can sell it directly to China or to somewhere in Europe for a very cheap price. Some companies are worse. They just throw away the e-waste. Which is sad.
As a real example, they will smash all the hard drives with a Hammer cuz they don't want the data to be recovered. And then they put everything in the e-waste and we're talking, you know, a thousand, two thousand [00:01:00] computers perfectly working. So we were like, Hey, what if we could make that e-waste income for that company, and we'll take care of the data, erase it and make sure it's refurbished, repaired, and sold, in France or in Europe.