Zsofia Kollar founded Human Material Loop. Human Material Loop describes itself as a ‘Material innovation company’ and makes use of human hair to develop textiles. A truly evolutionary approach to the clothing industry.
Hi Zsofia, here at FEM-START, we are very keen to hear more about your story. What inspired you to start your own business and why this business, what drives you?
I was running my independent design studio, where I, both did commissioned works for clients such as the Dutch Military, Ministry of Culture, Amsterdam Royal Zoo (etc.), and also my own initiatives. When the pandemic hit, not just many works got postponed or canceled, but I also started to question my position as a designer. What is my responsibility as a designer? The world seemed to collapse during the pandemic. I read more and more about the climate crisis, and my designer identity shifted. Design is about creating solutions; solutions that contribute to society and the world, not just a small circle of people. In my work I often questioned the norms, challenged our perspectives, used materials that were unusual.
Hair was a material that I was always fascinated by. We spend a lot of time and money on taking care of our hair, but once it is cut it becomes a repulsive material; even if it was your own hair, you do not want to touch or look at it. While hair is the same keratin protein fiber as wool, we still incinerate or landfill. During the pandemic, I started researching hair as a material, the textile industry and our supply chains. The textile industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, and we do not only pollute the planet but also our health too. Then I had my revelation moment, design a system and materials from hair to cut the pollution of the textile industry, push for a zero-waste society and develop textiles that will have no harm to our bodies. My mission with Human Material Loop is to create a true textile revolution, and show that we are part of this ecosystem and not above it.
What are some of the most essential things you did to get your business off the ground?
I did quite some projects before, from concept to product, where I was responsible for the production as well. However, founding a company is a lot more complex. You realize that you need a team, a lot more resources, and you need a network that supports you, and you need to convince a lot more people about your idea. As I come from the creative industry with my network, I was able to produce prototypes that helped to convince people about the viability of the company. Building a team is a long process, you just keep on looking and talking to people. What really helped me was to join different accelerator programs, where incredible mentors were helping me to move forward. Getting funding is not easy, especially when your company is in material science, where you need a lot more resources in the beginning compared to a software company. Unsuccessful and eventually successful subsidy applications helped to get going.
How did you build your customer base and grow your business?
Attending events, fairs, exhibitions is always a good way to get customers. I always have some fabric samples in my bag to show because you never know who you might meet. We have received quite a good media attention, major newspapers featured articles about us which helped to get people on board, but also reaching our on LinkedIn is very effective. Shameless promotion, writing messages, is the way to go. I stopped fearing what if the other people don’t reply or if I can message the person, if you don’t write that message 100% you will not get a reply. During networking events, I also met many peers, and we also built a small circle where we share opportunities, applications or connections to people.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you made along the way, and what did you learn from them?
Don’t be shy. I believe in the mission of Human Material Loop, the question is not if we will make it to a global system but when. Some mistakes, I would say, not pushing hard enough. Now we have relocated our R&D, I wish we would have done it before. That would have moved the developments much faster.
What is your biggest achievement since founding the company, and how did you get there?
Developed prototypes – I am really proud of them. With the small resources we started with, getting to these prototypes are huge milestones.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own business?
You got to believe in yourself! Might sound cliché, but if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. Use your disadvantages as your power, turn things around and show people you got this. Running a business is not easy, but if you embrace the process, it will be the best ride of your life. Trust in your team more than in anything. The most important is to build a great team because if you have a team who has your back, there is nothing that can stop you. Don’t be afraid to talk, ask for help or advice. Take comments when they are constructive, and if you meet some dinosaurs along the way, don’t get discouraged. If you want to break the system, you have to become the system, and you can break it from within. Don’t feel you don’t have a place at the table. You have all the reasons to be there, and if you don’t have all the skills yet, just tell them you will learn them.
3 key takeaways
Networking… Networking and Network constantly!
Know where to locate your R&D!
Join different accelerator programs!
If you’d like to know more information about Zsofia’s company Human Material Loop, click here!