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Salvaging By Design: Upcycling Fashion Industry Scraps

Clothing and apparel maker Looptworks has a unique business goal: never create anything new.

There are reasons why even in mythology, creation and destruction are linked. It takes something to make something. But in the fashion industry, the element of destruction that goes into your new threads often comes in the form of waste.

Textile manufacturing is notorious for its inefficient use of water and energy. Often the carbon footprint of our clothing only expands as it is shipped to stores from distant lands. Then, after those resources are depleted in an effort to create new material, the average mill discards 60,000 pounds of fabric each week. The color might be wrong. The buyer might have changed her mind, or the manufacturer may have just overproduced. What doesn’t sell is sent to the dump or incinerated. It’s a common practice that results in millions of tons of clothing wasted every year—clothing that was made at a considerable environmental toll to begin with.

There are other ways of creating. Apparel maker Looptworks salvages that wasted material, scouring mills and warehouses for excess fabric, thread, and buttons before they get destroyed—and then Looptworks creates.

It’s a model dreamed up by founders Scott Hamlin and Gary Peck, veterans with combined experience from Nike, Adidas and Royal Robbins. Working in the textile industry for over a decade and a half apiece, Hamlin and Peck were witness to all that excess. They determined that in going into business for themselves, goal number one would be simple: they never wanted to create anything new.

Making fashionable apparel and gear from someone else’s waste means being flexible. Kiana Neal, Looptworks’ Product Line Manager, explains that for their clothing line, “we try and develop really sick silhouettes that can be versatile with fabric choices based on what we can find at the time we’re looking to order.” One season’s vest came in Italian striped wool. The next season the same design came in a sporty polyester with fleece lining. It’s a form of adaptive design that results in a line of limited-edition products.

But Looptworks also creates using a method reminiscent of childhood play—making something from whatever happens to be available. This translates into an inversion of the model that dominates the fashion industry—one where resources are made to bend to a designer’s vision. At Looptworks things can happen the other way around, with design ideas inspired by what can be salvaged.

That process has resulted in bags made from wind turbine tarps and laptop covers from deep sea diving wetsuit material. They will soon make backpacks, messenger bags and laptop sleeves from banners that were hung at University of Oregon’s Olympics Trials. When a leather manufacturer called Looptworks about finding a use for its remnants—pieces cut away due to blemish and minor scratches—the scraps were cut down and pressed into workable squares. Though some might question just how environmentally sensitive it is to make leather products, Neal says “we really believe that we’d rather see it as a laptop sleeve than see it in a landfill.”

It’s a matter of using what already exists and making things work. It may mean trimming pockets with surplus yardage. It may mean retailers must learn to be adaptive—that pretty blue shirt that sold so well may now come in green, because that’s the fabric that was salvageable this season. It means creating something people will want out of what was about to be thrown away, and in doing that, Looptworks closes a loop in manufacturing. They also make fashion a bit less destructive.

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