Upcycling Gives Excess Clothing Fabric a Second Chance

Looptworks stitches together an upcycled business model for outdoor apparel.

As global director of product at Royal Robbins, Scott Hamlin was responsible for eliminating the outdoor-clothing company's "fabric liability" — mountains of surplus cloth. "It wasn't quite enough to make a production run, and it was more than what was conscionable to just throw away," he says. "So we would write the check to the textile factory and the factory would take over from there, and nobody ever asked where that fabric went."

He knew, though, that much of it would end up in landfills. So did his industry peers Gary Peck and Jim Stutts. So last year, the three joined forces to launch a company to "upcycle" excess fabric into hip apparel for outdoor enthusiasts. Terracycle pushed upcycling into the consumer lexicon by making new products out of postconsumer packaging. Looptworks — the name is a take on closed-loop, zero-waste manufacturing — is among a new wave of startups that are tackling the other end of the garbage problem: preconsumer waste.

At Looptworks, the designers adapt their sketches to the cloth the company has sourced. Then Looptworks finds a factory with fair labor practices as close as possible to the textile mill — often in Malaysia, Indonesia, or India. The company sells items such as a $190 jacket, $65 shirt, and $30 laptop sleeve online and in sporty boutiques. Since only small quantities of fabric are usually available, most items are limited editions; each garment has a looped tag that features its upcycling backstory and a production number.

Looptworks takes its waste-not ethos to heart. "As a company, the only new things we've bought so far are an external hard drive and a DVD player," Hamlin says. Business cards? He stamps his contact information onto the backs of out-of-date cards from other companies.

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  • Dave Cyra

    It's not as eco-friendly as this group is doing, but 5 years back or so when I was working for American Eagle we had these polos for girls out during the spring. When fall came around I noticed that the inner lining of one of the blazers for the fall was the fabric and pattern of the polos sold for the spring and I'm sure they were recycled.

    I honestly think it's a great trend to reuse items as most do end up in landfills or sold to resellers that in-turn may send them to the landfill again.

  • Robin Bertelsen

    It's wonderful that Looptworks is tapping into this mountain of "raw" material. I'm thrilled that clothing and textile manufacturers have started to pay attention to the pre-consumer waste.

    Ideally, of course, wouldn't it just be better to only make what you need and not have all that extra? One of the problems in the textile industry is that companies have to print off large quantities of fabric. And, as mentioned above, even if all of it's not needed, the textile factory produces it anyway.

    There are alternatives to the traditional process that saves not only tons of fabric, but water and energy too: AirDye (http://airdye.com). Our take is that it's better not to generate the waste in the first place. We're able to produce the exact amount needed and re-run it later with the exact same results. So, there's no difference in the quality, color and results from lot to lot. We're hoping more and more textile designers and manufacturers will take a closer look at their processes and come up with sustainable choices to add to our portion of the clothing supply chain.