Zsofia Kollar, CEO of Human Material Loop, discusses her journey from a design background to founding the company, which uses human hair to create eco-friendly materials for the textile industry starting with expanding the European infrastructure.
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Please tell me about yourself and your journey!
“I’m Zsofia and I’m the founder and CEO of Human Material Loop. Coming from the design industry during the pandemic an identity crisis made me question the profession and its responsibilities. Design is about creating solutions, solutions that are accessible to everyone. That’s how Human Material Loop was born, to make a change in the way we source, produce, consume, and discard our materials. We are a material innovation company, using science to transform waste keratin fibers from hair salons to planet-positive next-generation materials for the textile industry.
Our goal is to create a global system where everybody can take part and benefit from because the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries, and the biggest emissions in the industry are coming from the raw materials. So, if we want to really make a change, we must go to the source and change the materials we are currently using. And within the company, I’m responsible for the material developments, the creative direction of the company and overall business developments of the company from strategic partnerships to manufacturing partnerships.”
What is your team composition like?
“We are two co-founders. We also do a lot of contract manufacturing and independent contractors from engineers to textile designers depending on the phase we are in. We also have quite a few people in the lab that we are contracting to do the research for us.”
Right and you told me briefly a little bit about the process, because for me and likely some others, it’s completely new that you can use human hair. Perhaps you could share a bit more?
“Human hair is nothing other than the same keratin, protein, fiber, as wool or any other animal fibers. The difference is that we do not live just to cut our hair, it is a byproduct of our lifestyle. While you might think, that haircut you are getting every now and then is not relevant, it actually adds up to 2.2 billion kg waste annually globally. This waste stream is either incinerated or landfilled, either way it’s a shame because it is a valuable raw material to implement in our production system. So the whole idea started off with how we could use this keratin protein, which is actually the strongest protein found in nature as well, to develop next generation planet positive materials from it. We are also going into a world where raw materials will be extremely scarce and we really have to rethink how we can use all available resources around us with. By utilising science we have developed technologies that transform the keratin into materials for the textile industry.
For the textile industry, our goal was also to develop a technology and the entire process that does not require building new factories and new machineries, but already existing machines can be used to implement our processes. Most factories’ machines have already depreciated for decades. We aim for global implementation using existing factories, and if they need to make minor adjustments to their production, they will be able to implement it much more smoothly. It is an important element of our company vision, because hair is available everywhere, if we can manufacture locally all over the world, we do not only cut costs on shipping but we can also foster local economies.”
So how’s your distribution set up? Who can you end up selling to?
“We work just like any other textile manufacturing company; we just have completely different sourcing. But after that it’s the same process as for anybody else in the textile industry. We are producing materials for brands designers, architects and selling our materials per meter or kilogram depending on the product. We use standard measurements from the industry, which means our clients do not have to adjust to a new metric system.”
And have you been selling already?
“We have made our first sale in the last months, which is the beginning of a long term partnership. We have received a huge interest from the industry and we have a pipeline of customers ready for implementation.”
Could you tell me a little bit about your funding round and the investors you are looking for?
“The current funding ground is 500K and we want to use this money to finalize some of our IP and the technology, and have some key operational hires. We are looking into angel investors or people who can also perhaps strategically be involved within the operations or are familiar with the industry. We are aiming for a smart capital.”
And so where would you see yourself in five years from now?
“We really want to establish the European infrastructure with all European countries for the hair collection. We are also getting more and more requests from cosmetic brands to make the salon industry more sustainable.
We also established an exclusive partnership with a salon waste management company who have already proven a success in the US, and now they are establishing themselves in Europe. So we do have a very strong infrastructure for waste collection. In five years, we plan to have a solid infrastructure and production system in place and ready to scale up our proud lion. In ten years we want to have 500 million kilogram hair in production, which is 25% of the global waste streams. And then also considering that the most population lives in cities, so also most salons are located in cities, waste collection is extremely efficient with today’s smart mobility. We aim to make make it a norm and become an important player within an industry that provides healthy and well performing materials. I strongly believe, considering all the benefits this material can bring to the industry and to consumers, that this shift will happen. It is a 100% natural material, it is not just hypoallergenic but also antibacterial, it has great thermal and acoustic properties, it is free of toxic chemical and contains no plastic. After all no soil has been degraded, no water was polluted and no animal was exploited to produce this material. It makes total sense to have in our production system.”
I can imagine. Are you the first to come up with this or are there other people doing this?
“There are a few other companies who are mostly developing nets for ocean oil spills. But that’s a really inefficient process, also not effectively looking at the environment. So that’s more like a hobby initiative. On a scale and technology point of view we are the first one to offer a viable system to develop value from hair waste where all stakeholders can benefit including the planet.”