Looptworks upcycles unusable NBA jerseys to create new gear for teams and the league to sell
Scott Hamlin, a former University of Oregon pole vaulter and decathlete, once had Olympic dreams but a pulled hamstring before the 1992 Olympic Trials dashed those hopes. Today, he’s living his new dream working with some of the top companies in the world to take excess materials and produce sustainable products.
Hamlin’s journey began at Adidas America in 1993, at that time he was just one of 20 employees in North America working for the German apparel company. During his time at Adidas, factories would invoice him for excess fabric, sparking his curiosity about this cost.
Hamlin discovered that 15% to 30% of fabric from the manufacturing process was being wasted, going to the incinerator, landfills or to third world countries, which often wipes out local manufacturing.
Hamlin eventually worked his way up to run the company’s business in Brazil. His retail career continued at Jockey and the outdoor and travel apparel company Royal Robbins. All along the way, he was shocked at the amount of waste that was produced during the manufacturing process.
During that time, awareness about sustainability and the damage we were causing our environment was rising.
“I looked at this and thought, now is our chance to make meaningful change to an antiquated industry,” he said in an interview.
Hamlin launched his Portland, Oregon, company Looptworks in 2009. Its mission is to “close the loop,” by taking excess textiles and transforming them into other useful goods that include bags, accessories and clothing through a process called upcycling.
Looptworks’ clients include Fortune 500 companies from nearly every industry but the business expanded into the National Basketball Association in 2016. Hamlin was approached by the Portland Trailblazers with jerseys that had been created but were now deemed waste.
“They came to us with jerseys of four players that were traded and they wanted us to create something for one of their green games,” Hamlin said. The NBA has an initiative to generate awareness for protecting the environment.
Looptworks upcycled the materials to create a scarf, sling bag and dopp kits using about 250 jerseys. The company then sells back the finished product to the Trailblazers, who sell the items at their team store and online.
“When fans realized they were made from jerseys and are one of a kind, they sold out of all their units overnight,” Hamlin said.
It typically takes 2-3 weeks to turn it from a jersey into another product.
That following season, the NBA caught wind of Looptworks and came to Hamlin with an even bigger order.
“The NBA said, we love what you’re doing with Portland and we’re switching apparel sponsors from Adidas to Nike,” said Hamlin. “That meant thousands of jerseys that aren’t sellable,” Hamlin said.
NBA jerseys are not allowed to be sold once players are traded, if they retire or if the sponsor changes. This can mean that the league, teams and vendors get stuck with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of excess items.
The NBA trade deadline passed Feb. 6, producing dozens of trades including one four-team, 12-player mega-deal. These deals can mean new inventory for Looptworks.
Once the product reaches Looptworks, it can take about three weeks to upcycle them into new products before they are returned to the customer to sell. Revenue streams vary per partnership, but include consultation, material collection, sorting, repair, cleaning, resale, upcycling, and closed loop research. As part of their deal with the NBA and similar partners, the league or teams buy back the upcycled goods at wholesale to resell themselves.
As part of their partnership with Southwest airlines, Looptworks upcycled leather from the seats
As Southwest Airlines updates its plane interiors, Looptworks takes their used leather seat covers to create stylish purses, bags and luggage. Hamlin said the company came to him six years ago and said, “We have 43 acres worth of leather that we don’t want to put in the landfill but we don’t know what to do with it.”
As more and more companies pledge to be landfill free, Looptworks has seen 300% sales growth over the last two years and are projecting 100% growth this year. The company, which is private, declined to provide specific numbers.
Looptworks also has earned B-Corp certification, which means it has pledged to meet certain standards of environmental performance. There are a growing number of companies who share Hamlin’s mission, including retailers such as Nike and Adidas, which are increasingly making sustainable products a focus.
“It’s funny, we were ahead of our time. When we started and I was talking about upcycling, people thought I was talking about riding bikes up hill.”