Hemp is in high demand once again. From biodiesel and building alternatives, to dairy and cooking oil substitutes, to taking its place amongst superfoods, hemp is a key crop for a sustainable future. One of the largest outputs of the emerging hemp industry is the fabric that is spun from the fibers of the hemp plant. With the apparel industry considered to be the second largest contributor to pollution worldwide (1), hemp as a sustainable fabric is the answer to mindful production and consumption of clothing.
2018 Farm Bill: Opening The Door For Sustainability
Federal bans on growing hemp were lifted with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, leaving jurisdiction of hemp farming in the hands of state and local governments. (2)
Regions where the growing of hemp has been permitted have seen a flourishing of the local economy as well as environmental benefits unlike any other commercial crop. Hemp is a carbon positive plant, meaning it puts more nutrients back into the soil than it extracts during growth.
It is also carbon negative in the sense that it has a high absorption rate of carbon dioxide from its environment, more so than any other sustainable materials used to make clothing, due to the density of the plant. During its growing period, hemp enriches the soil and allows farmers to grow other crops immediately following the harvest, eliminating the need for a fallow period. Hemp can also be used to clean up soil pollution quicker than other crops, and even absorbs toxins in contaminated ground water. (2)
In comparison with other crops used to produce fabric, hemp is the most sustainable. (2) While organic cotton, and linen, which is made from the flax plant, are good alternatives to chemical-laden synthetic fabrics, the growing processes are not as environmentally friendly as that of hemp. Hemp crops yield twofold what cotton and flax crops can produce in a given season, and hemp is a sturdier plant less susceptible to failure in subpar growing conditions. Aside from the overall efficiency and larger returns from a hemp crop of the same size, it uses significantly less water than both cotton and flax crops. (3)
The Benefits Of Hemp Clothing
After the growing is done and the fabric is made, the benefits keep on coming. Like most natural fabrics, hemp fabric is a great temperature regulator. It is breathable in warmer weather and somewhat insulating in cooler weather. Hemp clothing is also naturally antimicrobial, which means it will fight odors and resist the mold, mildew, and dirt that cause them. It is also great for people with sensitive skin, as hemp is usually processed with little to no chemicals. Hemp has a sturdy fibre structure, making it a durable and long-lasting fabric.
These fibers stand up well to the washing process, grow softer over time, and wear as they relax. In an increase in the use of hemp in fashion, designers have found that the fabric is noticeably soft and has a natural drape to it that affords aesthetic appeal and function to hemp clothing. And, when hemp garments have run their course, the material will biodegrade. This lends itself to lessening the environmental impact of waste in the clothing industry. (3)
Hemp In Fashion
While hemp clothing has long been associated with a particular subset of American culture, more and more designers are embracing sustainability and, by extension, hemp. With fashion trending toward comfort and function, hemp is the new black in the world of designer clothing. As early as 2008, Fashion Week featured sustainable clothing in a showcase called FutureFashion where hemp was the secret ingredient of jumpsuits and gowns by Calvin Klein and Donatella Versace. (6)
Along with its affordability and chic appearance, hemp provides an on-trend color palette of neutrals ranging from warmer soft yellows and browns to dusty pinks and peaches, especially when enhanced with natural and sustainable dyes. Hemp is here to stay.
The Future Of Hemp Clothing
More mindful companies geared toward active and outdoor clothing, such as prAna and Patagonia, have been integrating hemp into their designs quite successfully for years. The specs lend themselves to hemp as a performance material as well as an aid in the sustainability initiatives set forth by environmentally responsible clothing companies. With hemp production in high demand, coupled with the economic stimulation and the positive environmental impact of the crop, it’s high time to start investing in hemp couture.