If someone had asked you to picture someone wearing hemp clothing a few years ago what would be your first thought? There is no doubt that you would probably have described a traveler with baggy, itchy and natural colored clothing. A look that was commonly associated with the textile.
Fast forward to 2019 a year after the passing of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, and it is a very different story.
For years many people have worn cotton as a staple textile quite commonly in the summer to keep cool in the heat. It is a natural, soft fiber that grows within the seeds of the cotton plant. Which in turn can be made into cloth.
The word ‘cotton’ is derived from ‘qutun’ or ‘kutun’, an Arabic word used to describe any fine textile.
But did you know that this much-loved fine textile is the world’s most polluting? Hard to believe that this cute, fluffy crop could cause such damage, right?
Well, unfortunately, it is. Cotton is one of those materials that people take for granted and are ill-informed of the impact the material is having on the environment. We hear the news on plastic, we hear the news on animal agriculture, but most of us do not realize what goes into producing a single cotton garment and the impact the production has on the environment.
As well as having to go through numerous manufacturing processes with each step often taking place in different factories, the production of apparel also uses huge amounts of water. The yarn has to be constantly washed as it goes through the different chemical processes to turn it into a very delicate material.
The cotton industry employs an estimated 300million people, so working conditions are difficult to monitor and regulate. It is the biggest raw ingredient after food, and it needs vast amounts of land, water, herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers to grow hence why it is labelled as a drain on world resources.
Hemp versus Cotton
The use of hemp in clothing can be traced back to 8000 BC in the Middle East and China where the fiber was used for textiles. It is a densely growing plant that literally chokes out any competing plants hence why it bears the nickname weed.
There is no need to use chemical pesticides on this plant, hemp can be grown using organic pesticides that do not harm the ecosystem. This super plant loves its environment so much it gifts back 60-70% of its nutrients back to the soil. Thanks, hemp!
Hemp requires 1/20th the amount of water and less land than its competitor cotton, and according to the guide to sustainable textiles, this means it can produce up to double the fiber yield per hectare.
Both hemp and cotton have been cultivated for thousands of years as fiber but unlike cotton which depletes the soil of nutrients, hemp can be grown consecutively for over twenty years without the soil being affected.
So, what is next for Hemp?
It is safe to say that the resource-draining textile cotton is not sustainable for the longer term and hemp is set to become as commonly used as it was back in the 1920s when 80% of our clothing was made from hemp textiles. Hemp is slowly making a comeback as its benefits and ability to save the textile industry are becoming common knowledge.
Unfortunately, hemp as a fiber has had to battle to regain recognition over the past 60 years due to the term hemp being incorrectly associated with recreational cannabis use. Now that the world is starting to recognize the opportunities and varieties cannabis offers and slowly the plant is being legalized for industrial use.
Hemp helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer and gets softer the more you wash it. So, no more images of that itchy, uncomfortable, awkward-looking clothing that we all used to associate with hemp clothing.
As the documentary from The Passionate Eye, Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, highlights the environmental impact of what we wear is in our hands.
“We are producing over 100 billion new garments from new fibers every single year,” says Lucy Siegle, a journalist investigating fashion’s growing environmental footprint. “And the planet cannot sustain that.”
So, let’s start living and wearing hemp loud and proud.
We love you hemp!