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 He stamps his contact information onto the backs of out-of-date cards from other companies.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.