Monday, Aug. 13, 2012

Five Questions With Loomstate CEO Scott Mackinlay Hahn

After teaming up with Rogan Gregory to create the popular brands Rogan and Egan (the latter with the help of Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson), Scott Mackinlay Hahn and Gregory co-founded Loomstate, a clothing line dedicated to environmental and social responsibility, in 2004. The company is now partnering with Chipotle Mexican Grill to design the fast-food chain's uniforms, set to debut over the next few months. (You can already see them modeled by Chipotle employees at Chipotle's New York Chelsea branch.) Here, Hahn talks to TIME about starting Loomstate, green fabrics and balancing sustainability with design.

How is Loomstate eco-conscious?
Cotton is a big part of the story. We found out how destructive conventional cotton farming is, so we made a brand just focused on organic cotton. There's also our Loomstate 321 product, which is tencel-based, a really great yarn made from tree and wood pulp. The whole line is made out of that.

Why did you start Loomstate?
At our first brand [Rogan, started in 2001], we pioneered a lot of the denim washing that makes denim look authentic and vintage. Our impact in terms of scale and commercial relevance was small, but we creatively had a big influence. We had a lot of editors and stylists and actors wearing it. So suddenly it became really trendy, and all the bigger brands jumped on this creative theme of making jeans look old and washed out and cozy. But that's a very wasteful process because you're using a lot of water — you're taking a brand new fabric, and you're washing it down. You're bringing a product to its end of life and selling it as new. [Designer] Rogan Gregory and I were like, "Wait if we're going to start a second brand, the world does not need another brand like this."

Is it easier for smaller brands to remain eco-conscious?
When you're talking about big brands making an impact on the world, most of their product is sold at a mass price point, and that's where there is the smallest margin, so you don't have as much room or money to make environmental improvements. When we started Loomstate, at a more premium price point, it wasn't so hard. But as you move down to denim brands that are selling at a more competitive price point, it proves harder and harder to do this because you have to be able to pay farmers certain premiums.

How do you balance sustainability with design and fashion?
It's a constant, fine line to walk, but we air toward the design narrative because that's where people's attention is focused. But green fashion and the conversation is moving quickly from romantic and idealistic to a very technical and measured practice, thanks to collaborations and tools like the Higgs Index. And that allows companies to be quieter about that green message and just make great product.

Loomstate will next design Chipotle Mexican Grill's new uniforms. How did that partnership come about?
Loomstate has gone on to connect the agricultural story to the food conversation. Chipotle is a leader in the sustainable food movement. Basically, Chipotle is so good in what it's doing with food that we are trying to do what they did with food with clothing. So we're making their uniforms and helping them with their design narrative. And it's given us some scale — making their uniforms. Now we can really get to the farms; we can produce organic cotton on a bigger level.