WHAT IS IT?
The hemp plant is a variety of the cannabis sativa but the lack of THC makes it unusable as a recreational product. The fibre found in the crop can be used to make almost every item you find yourself wearing on a daily basis even including yoga leggings, jeans and dresses.
As a plant, it requires no pesticide and little water. The long roots prevent erosion and help retain the topsoil, renewing the soil surrounding them with each growth cycle. To top it all off, nothing is wasted in the production process: the seeds are used for food or to make oil and the stalks are used for the fibre.
HEMP VS. COTTON
Cotton is the most common natural fibre in our clothing, but the large scale exploitive industry it has become isn't sustainable. The hemp plant uses less than half the water the cotton plant does. Due to this, it is less expensive to farm and has a much easier growing process, eventually producing a lightweight and absorbent material with three times the strength of cotton. As highlighted by the press recently, a lot of droughts in the middle east have been linked to the process of cotton and hemp could help solve this issue.
WHY ISN’T IT USED TODAY?
China is the current world leader for the production of hemp fabrics, however, they have been using chemical methods in its processing. This is counteracting all the environmental benefits. Knowing this, producers in Europe have started using cleaner biologically-based enzyme technology.
Neither of the two mentioned methods of production results in the same whiteness and softness of cotton that we know and love. This means that a lot of hemp clothing is now blended with cotton to make it more attractive to the consumer. Although this is a step in the right direction, we could aim higher.
Sadly, the politics of the plant has also interfered with the development of hemp-based textiles. A string of misinformation and the plant’s connection to the recreational drug has resulted in over 60 years of controversy and hesitation around its use. The USA’s federal law still denies American farmers the right to grow the crop, even though industrial hemp played a key part in the founding of their country. During the farm bill act, put in place a year ago, an amendment was made to allow research and development into industrial growth of the plant at state level. This is an important step for the industry with America being one of the biggest global powerhouses and the world’s good exporters.
IS IT A SOLUTION?
Slowly, many countries are starting to recognise the difference between the two strands of cannabis and legalise the plant’s industrial use. The value of this eco-friendly crop is becoming widely known and hemp farmers are making 10 times the amount per acre than grain farmers. This is a hopeful opportunity for developing countries and those farmers who are facing falling demand in their crops such as tobacco.
One of the biggest problems of the climate crisis is that we don't have enough trees left. We’ve destroyed huge areas of rainforest and greenery that needs to be replaced. Every year roughly 18 million hectares of forest, the size of England and Wales, is cut down, meaning in just 100 years the rainforests could have disappeared. Industrial hemp plants absorb more CO2 than trees, therefore, providing a solution for the fashion industry and the physical environment.
To ensure it is a sustainable solution, regulation for the crop’s production, the chemicals used and the sourcing of the material would need to be put into place. The large variety of goods that can be made from the hemp plant and the use of the waste from production means it could be integrated into a circular economy system. Ultimately, for it to become a widespread solution big economic powers such as the USA need to get onboard. By supporting smaller business already using the fibre this can be achieved.
FASHION / SUSTAINABILITY
Hi, I’m Freya, a Cornish local who has grown up in and around the sea. Living on the coast my whole life, sustainability and loving the environment has always been a massive part of my lifestyle. I’ve surfed since I could walk and spend 90% of my summers barefoot in a bikini and in the water. Having always lived in a tiny village I’m lucky to have had the opportunities to get out and travel and surf in all the corners of the world. This something I’m so grateful for and has only increased my love for the planet and shown me the importance of keeping it in shape for future generations to enjoy as much as I have so far. In between my University studies I teach surfing and yoga on the beach and pride myself in turning into a beach bum for 5 months of the year. When I’m not in my wetsuit or on my yoga mat I love to discover new cafes and brunch spots with my fellow mermaids and drink all the coffee that I can handle. So far my life has been full of sand, waves and tan lines; just the way I like it.