As the fashion industry searches for more eco-friendly materials, hemp could be one of the most viable options. But could its association with marijuana stop us from utilising it? Is hemp clothing sustainable? The answer will depend on how the fashion industry and its consumers are willing to approach this fabric.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the production process of hemp fabric, including its benefits, drawbacks, and sustainability, to give you an all-encompassing overview of the material.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Hemp Clothing?
People are slowly turning to industrial hemp as a greener option as they become more aware of the environmental consequences of conventional textiles like polyester. Hemp is now used to make everything from T-shirts to underwear, but this fabric isn’t without its cons.
Hemp Clothing Advantages
- Biodegradable and compostable
- Protects from UV rays
- Antibacterial and antifungal
Hemp Clothing Disadvantages
- Wrinkles easily
- Requires some chemical processing
1. What Is Hemp Clothing Made Of?
Hemp fabric is made from the stalks of the industrial cannabis plant, which is related to psychoactive cannabis, but doesn’t contain enough THC to be considered psychoactive. The plant has been used for millennia to make rope and fabric.
Hemp is sustainable for several reasons. First, cannabis is highly resistant to pests, making pesticides practically unnecessary. Second, it’s a high-yielding crop, which means that it doesn’t need as much land to grow. Finally, it uses less water than cotton and returns nutrients into the soil, a process known as phytoremediation.
The fabric is made of fibres that are removed from the bark through a technique known as ‘retting.’ Once the process is over, the long, tightly packed fibres are spun together to create a continuous thread that could be woven into cloth. This procedure can be done through a mechanical process that doesn’t require any chemicals, ultimately making hemp clothing sustainable.
Amazing, isn’t it?
However, some businesses use harsh chemicals to make hemp fabric which is more damaging to the environment. On the plus side, this speeds up the process and lowers prices.
You can tell that a hemp fabric went through this harsh treatment if it’s labelled ‘hemp viscose.’ This usually means that it underwent the same chemical processes as ordinary viscose.
So, if you’re buying clothes made of hemp because of their sustainability, you should pay attention to this label and opt for hemp clothing brands that choose more natural ways of manufacturing. Some of those are Valani, Patagonia, Outerknown, and Amour Vert.
2. How Long Does Hemp Clothing Last?
One of the benefits of hemp clothing is the durability of the material. Unlike many synthetic fabrics, which may break down quickly or lose their elasticity, hemp clothing lasts for years. Some claim it can last for even 20 or 30 years with proper care.
Hemp clothes will hold up through repeated washes and uses without losing their shape or fraying. The material will become softer with time, but the fibres won’t break.
This makes hemp one of the most durable eco-friendly fabrics.
3. Why Is Hemp Clothing So Expensive?
Hemp is more expensive because it’s the product of a fledgling industry, and supply is limited. Although it can grow in a wide range of climates and soil types, hemp is cultivated in only a few locations, mostly in Europe and China. This means that there isn’t a lot of fibre available, increasing its price.
Another thing that drives the price of hemp clothes up is the time-consuming and labour-intensive process of making the material. It involves a four-step process: planting, harvesting, extracting, and weaving. The end product depends a lot on how the fibres are handled during these stages. If not treated properly, the material could end up rough or stiff, leading to a low-quality cloth.
To lower the expenses, some manufacturers choose to mix hemp with another sustainable fabric, usually organic cotton. These two materials work well with each other while bringing the costs of production down.
4. Is Hemp Clothing Comfortable?
You might be surprised to learn that hemp clothing is quite comfortable. Despite being made of rough and sturdy material, hemp fabric is soft and smooth to the touch. Another reason why hemp clothing is good is that it’s very absorbent, which makes it ideal for warm weather.
Sustainable fashion brands often use it in sportswear lines because of its moisture-wicking properties. And unlike some synthetic fabrics, hemp is breathable, so it won’t make you feel too hot or cause you to sweat even more.
Hemp fibre also has antibacterial and antifungal properties while hemp fabric is more resistant to mildew. This also makes it hypoallergenic and ideal for making underwear and socks. Another fascinating fact about hemp clothing is that it can block up to 95% of ultraviolet rays.
5. Does Hemp Fabric Crease?
Hemp wrinkles and creases just like other textiles produced from natural fibres. One way of minimising this is to hang the clothes overnight and let gravity straighten the material.
You can also opt for hemp clothes blended with other materials as those tend to crease less than pure hemp. Nevertheless, be prepared to iron them more often.
Hemp has major potential to become a sustainable eco-friendly choice for producing clothing. It’s long-lasting and biodegradable, meaning that it can lower the amount of waste in landfills. Also, the process of making the cloth from the plant can be done with no or minimal use of chemicals. The problem is that this type of production is still quite expensive, driving the price of natural hemp up. So, many companies choose to use some chemicals to lower the price tag.
So is hemp clothing sustainable? Yes—hemp is better for the environment than most other fabrics—and it’s great for you, too.