Scott Hamlin founded his start-up Looptworks, an upcycler of textiles like used NBA jerseys and airplane seats, with the goal of reducing material waste. The process of reusing and refurbishing finished goods not only benefits the environment by conserving natural resources, but extends the life and value of the materials themselves.
Concerning textile waste alone, Looptworks says the average apparel factory discards approximately 60,000 pounds of perfectly usable, pre-consumer textiles every single week. And because countries in Southeast Asia are no longer accepting Westerners' waste, gone are the days when America could ship away their waste disposal problems.
The rapid growth of such waste and overproduction also puts a strain on one of our Earth’s most valuable resources: water. Only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater, and of that, only 0.3% is accessible to humans, says Kristy Jenkensin, Director of World Resources Institute.
Looptworks CEO Hamlin came face to face with the reality of textile and water waste while working at apparel brands like Royal Robbins, adidas, and Jockey. In some cases, he says about 30% of excess materials were leftover from manufacturing, only to head to a landfill or incinerator. Steps were taken towards sustainability, like using organic cotton over polyester, but it wasn’t significantly reducing the large amount of waste generated during pre- and post-production. For example, it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce the cotton needed to create one cotton t-shirt.
“The material was getting better, but the system was broken,” says Hamlin.
He describes an overseas warehouse with racks and racks of materials sitting untouched for months, only to be hauled off to the landfill or incinerator where it would waste away, releasing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Hamlin incubated Looptworks for about a year before launching with a singular mission: to use only what already exists. For Looptworks, upcycling is the starting point, with the long-term goal of preventing waste through a circular model of manufacturing and re-use.
“Step number one was recovering perfectly good materials from the waste stream and [reusing them], then moving to zero waste. We look at the entire supply chain from a circularity standpoint, and take inventory on what materials are being used in the operations.”
Looptworks’ closed-loop business model garnered them major news coverage that thrust them into the spotlight and onto Southwest Airlines radar in 2014. As part of an environmentally friendly initiative, Southwest replaced 80,000 leather seat covers with durable and environmentally-responsible material that lightened the weight of the plane and conserved jet fuel, thus reducing fossil fuel use.