Q&A: Scott Hamlin, CEO & Founder
Tell us about Looptworks. What do you do?
Looptworks is a brand providing zero-waste-to-landfill solutions and products for textiles. We work together with companies to divert excess textiles via upcycling, downcycling and closed loop solutions for pre-consumer excess or excess post-consumer goods.
How did Looptworks get started?
I started the company when I was working for an outdoor apparel brand. I saw the waste that was being created in the process and I kept getting the invoices for all the excess fabric liabilities. We would try to use the excess fabric, couldn’t, so we would put it off and try to use it the next season. When we never got around to using that excess fabric and ended up paying the factory for them to take it over from there. In determining what was happening with all the excess materials, I learned everything was basically going to landfill or incineration. I did not think that was a good solution. So Looptworks branched out in 2009, started intercepting these textiles across businesses, and used design as a creative and innovative solution to try and make products out of the abandoned materials. We have conserved an estimated 89 million gallons of water via upcycling efforts since 2009. Our goal was and still is to start a conversation and educate people around the value of not wasting things and the value of reinventing the entire supply chain for all textiles globally, because it is one of the most antiquated and wasteful industries.
Tell us about your employees. Who works here?
We have 20 employees at this point and we are growing. Because we do a complete vertical manufacturing process from design, development, through prototyping and to production, we have incredibly talented sewers and sewing operators. We have designers, developers, and everything else you would assume to find at a company, like a marketing, sales, and accounting team.
What makes you unique?
I think there are a few things that make Looptworks unique. We started the company on a simple concept: we were only going to use what already existed. We were not going to buy or create any new materials. That immediately changes a manufacturing paradigm. Our material supply is always changing and that is a unique challenge in and of itself. We also have a company goal to be a zero-waste facility which takes unique complexities to achieve. Additionally, Looptworks is a B Corporation-certified company. I reimagined the business model a little bit to where we can have a positive social impact for people and a positive environmental impact with the company. The company is something we can all be proud of. I think that philosophy and culture helps to make us unique.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing today?
Our biggest challenge is the constraint of the supply chain on two fronts. With China having to deal with the pandemic first, that shut them down and constrained the supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE). Then, the U.S. shut down and there was a tremendous demand for PPE but no great way to get it into the hands of the people who needed it. So, we raised our hand to help and created pretty significant mask and gown programs which helped us as a business bridge the gap between the beginning of the shut down and today. If you look at our regular business, we partner with the NBA, which shut down, the airlines, who were grounded, and we were about to launch big programs in partnership with the Olympics, and they got canceled. We had to shift industries and a bit of the product mindset. What came out of this was a good solution of us being able to put more Oregon employees to work making protective gear for Oregonians who needed it, from hospital employees to first responders to essential workers. This was great for us, but as soon as China’s shut down was lifted, in came the flood of cheap Chinese product that wiped out that business for us. The challenge from our standpoint is looking at and being able to expand a supply chain in an environmentally responsible way.
Looking at the domestic supply chain, currently, we do not see any investment coming in at a federal level, at a state level, at a city or county level. It is those types of things that really need to be shored up if a scenario like this is going to happen again. Hopefully, it doesn’t, but if it does, we are totally reliant on an overseas supply chain that is going to have problems in a global marketplace when you have things like pandemics and epidemics.
What does the future look like for Looptworks?
Looptworks is growing quickly and we are very bullish on the next five years. We foresee expansion of facilities and capabilities to scale. We currently work with some of the largest retailers and brands on the planet, but the desire is for us to catch up from a scale standpoint within these areas. Hopefully that expansion is in Oregon, but our next steps are finding the right mix of funding, capabilities, and workforce.
How do you view the future of manufacturing in Oregon?
We have applied for a few grants that are technology-based because I see the future revolving around automation. Those technologies are just not here today. If you look at our industry, specifically textiles, it was exported overseas in the late 70s and early 80s. The U.S. has not been owning much of it since. When you don’t do something for 50 years, you don’t get very good at it and can’t keep up with the evolving status quo. We have exported the brain trust around it.
For us to get back in that game, we are going to have to lean on technology. It is going to be automated cutting, sewing, sorting, and more. The investment in technology is going to need to happen and not just from a state level, but at the federal level. We can’t just restart what we used to do 50 years ago because it would be a detriment to the planet. We need to be innovative about how we do that, and we are going to have to do that in a circular nature. A circular economy is the forefront of manufacturing for all industries and Oregon should take a leadership role in that.
What makes you proudest about Looptworks?
There are two things that make me proud about Looptworks. It is the team first and foremost. We have a fantastic team and they have navigated this pandemic with grace and hard work. I am just proud of what they have done and what they are building and responding to, despite challenges coming our way. The second piece is the foundational mission we set up with the company, really using business as a force for good, to take on every day within an industry that is antiquated and rife with social and environmental problems; to make it a better place.