Certainly, while one thinks about hemp, fabric is not the first thing that comes to mind. Well, to clarify, not the same strand of the plant (Cannabis Sativa) is used to smoke it versus wear it. There are more than a hundred different strains of the Cannabis plant. Therefore, the strain that is used for fabric is completely different from the users of other Cannabis strains.
Industrial hemp or the Cannabis Sativa has a controversial history. Although it is not in itself a controversial plant, it is merely related to one. One may call it a cousin to marijuana, very low in THC and not capable of any kind of intoxication.
Hemp is an ancient crop and is believed to have first been cultivated in Asia and the Middle East. Some of the first uses of the plant are medicine from CBD oil, food from seeds, and textiles. Some of the oldest examples of hemp textiles have been dated to around 8000 years ago. In the time of European exploration and colonization, most canvas and rope or cordage were made from hemp. Initially, the textile wasn’t used for clothing because the technology to make it soft didn’t exist more recently. So, ancient people until the turn of the century Americans used this plant for many other reasons. In 1937, the US Marijuana Tax Act decimated the hemp industry. Because hemp could be used for both hemp textile and biofuel, many believe that threatening the cotton in oil industries was part of its demise. Hemp became legal to grow in Canada in 1998. Henceforth, the U.S made it legal again in 2018. Seventy percent of hemp for textile is grown in China. The Chinese are currently the world experts on processing hemp for textiles.
Hemp is always compared to cotton. There are a few reasons behind it. In most cases, hemp could replace cotton. Cotton is undoubtedly the most widely used textile in the world. When we talk about environmental impact and textiles, cotton has a lot of downfalls. As a crop, hemp is much more eco-friendly than cotton. Hemp is a plant that grows very densely. It requires 2-3 times less land than cotton. When compared to organic cotton, those numbers even get wider. Hemp also requires 2-3 times less water. Cotton is mostly grown in drier climates. Whereas, hemp can actually be grown in most climates. Hemp can also grow in most soil conditions. It will restore the depleted soil and its deep roots can prevent soil erosion. And finally, it’s carbon negative. It absorbs more than it produces. In a nutshell, hemp is much easier on the farmers, their pockets, and the environment.
When it comes to the comfort and dynamics of the fabric, hemp has a similar texture to cotton, but it also feels somewhat like canvas. It is not susceptible to any kind of shrinkage and is highly resistant to pilling. Since fibers from this plant are long and sturdy, hemp fabric is very soft and highly durable.
Hemp fabric softens with each washing, and its fibers don’t degrade even after dozens of washings. Since it’s also relatively easy to produce organic hemp fabric sustainably, this textile is practically ideal for clothing.
Hemp fabric is highly promoted as the savior the fashion industry needs right now. Hemp is seen and marketed as a super plant, a panacea to all our environmental problems, but like most things in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And certainly, hemp falls into this category. Thus, hemp is like a great step in the right direction.