Textile designer Scott Hamlin’s career aspirations and environmental ethos started in a ditch – the ditch in front of his childhood home in Eugene, Oregon. Hamlin was 10 years old and fervently wanted a special prize for his school’s “Keep Oregon Green” campaign, part of a longstanding statewide effort to reduce forest fire risk. Hamlin worked to clear his front ditch of fire–starting debris and eventually collected his reward – a sticker. He says that far more important than that token was his dawning awareness of his sense of stewardship of the environment.
“It was inherent in growing up in Oregon, and inherent in me, this sense of duty,” Hamlin, now 47, says.
I wanted to use design and creativity to make beautiful products.
Hamlin first studied business and marketing, then graduated with a degree in journalism and advertising. A committed track athlete, he had hoped to qualify for the 1992 Olympic team but pulled a hamstring shortly before the trials. So he did the next best thing – he started to work in Oregon’s growing sportswear industry. His first stop was at Adidas, where eventually he ran the company’s operations in Brazil. He then became design director at Jockey International before moving on to become global product director at Royal Robbins, an outdoor-wear company headquartered in San Francisco. At Royal Robbins, Hamlin found that sustainability was an increasing factor in the choice of textiles he could use in designs. Organic cottons, bamboo and soy fabrics were desirable options.
“Yet we were plugging these textiles into a system that was broken,” Hamlin says. “I was also the guy getting the invoices for ‘excess fabric liability’ – all the material we didn’t use in design, development and manufacturing.”
Hamlin realized that Royal Robbins was not alone in creating copious excess – on average the global footwear and apparel industry’s materials efficacy rate fluctuates between 70 and 85 percent, leaving up to a third of viable textiles stranded, literally, on the cutting room or factory floor. Influenced by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart’s bible on closed-loop manufacturing, Cradle to Cradle, Hamlin decided it was the opportune moment to launch his own company to deal with textile excess. Hamlin founded Looptworks in 2009 with a mission to upcycle the excess into amazing products.
“I wanted to use design and creativity to make beautiful products,” Hamlin says. “Yet I also wanted to pull up the curtain on an apparel industry that is antiquated and broken.”
Looptworks started out collecting pre-consumer textile “excess” (Hamlin eschews the word “waste”) and turning it into T-shirts, jackets and other active wear. The very next year Looptworks found a successful market niche turning excess neoprene wetsuits into laptop and tablet accessories.