Hemp is a multifaceted plant with hundreds of uses. For centuries, we’ve relied on hemp as a source of food, fiber, and for medicinal purposes. Hemp has followed human civilization from the earliest settlements to the modern day—and its uses support just about every human need imaginable.
It’s no coincidence that hemp has been around in basically every early civilization! But this ancient plant also has a recent controversial history.
In this blog, we’re covering everything you need to know about hemp—a plant that has the potential to transform the fashion industry. We’re talking about its history, legality, different uses, qualities, and sustainability benefits.
As restrictions on growing hemp lift, and more companies tap into its many qualities, we want to dig deeper into its pros and cons.
What is Hemp?
Hemp is the ‘sober’ sibling of cannabis. They’re in fact the same plant, but industrial hemp has trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive that gets you high. Its association with cannabis not only gave hemp a bad rep but also made it illegal.
Way before its controversial story began, hemp was one of the first plants used by humans to create materials and products. It grows in every continent on the planet (except Antarctica) and it’s a great source of food, fiber, and medicine. Today, hemp is distinguished by two names:
- Cannabis is when the hemp plant contains more than .3% of the psychoactive THC and it’s used for medicinal, spiritual, or recreational purposes.
- Hemp is when it’s used as food or as an ingredient for different products like clothing and rope.
The only difference between cannabis and hemp is the THC content. They’re the same plant but for legal reasons, they’re classified differently.
Hemp Throughout History
Hemp has a long history, and not all of it surrounds its legality. In fact, our ancestors, over 5,000 years ago, didn’t see a difference between hemp and cannabis. They simply used the seeds as a source of food, the fibers as a source of clothing, and the flower as a source of medicine.
In 1937, hemp was made illegal for production in the US. There were two main reasons this happened—the drug war, and hemp’s economical potential against the cotton and timber industries. Before illegality, hemp was a common crop. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper!
Hemp was threatening the booming businesses of cotton, tree paper, and timber. It’s such an incredible material for fabric and paper that they wanted to kill the industry before it started. A lot of the propaganda against hemp was fueled by these industries, spreading lies and fear-mongering ideas to the public. Eventually, these tactics led to illegalization.
During WWII, the US lifted the ban on hemp and prompt farmers to tap back into growing it. Back then, hemp was essential for creating war materials like parachutes, ropes, and uniforms. There were even marketing campaigns and tax breaks—all promoting the farming of hemp. The campaign was called Hemp for Victory.
In 2018, the US legalized the production of hemp, allowing farmers to grow it again, but it’s still struggling to gain a foothold. This is because of the lack of mills to process hemp fiber in the US. We’re currently relying on Canada, China, and France to process US-grown hemp.
Hemp and Its Many Uses
From medical to industrial, hemp has hundreds of different uses—making a strong argument for legalizing it again! It’s a dynamic plant that grows so abundantly it overtakes the growth of other plants—and since it’s a weed, it uses little water and no pesticides.
These are a few of the many uses of hemp:
Source of food
The fiber can be turned into clothing and textiles
Building materials (like hempcrete, and insulation)
Livestock feed and bedding
Out of hemp's multi-tasking qualities, one of the most important ones, and the one we’re tapping into it’s hemp fabric.
A Deep Dive Into Hemp Fabric
There are many ways to tap into hemp’s potential. But one of the most promising areas for hemp is in textiles and clothing. It’s no secret that the fashion industry is having a huge negative impact on the environment. And we need to rely more on natural and biodegradable fibers.
Hemp has the potential to revolutionize the fashion industry.
As a crop, hemp is gentle on the environment. It uses at least 50% less water than cotton, and it yields twice the amount of fiber per hectare. This means that it uses a lot less land. Plus, because it’s a weed (yes, that’s where the name comes from!), it grows without the need for pesticides. It also supports healthy soil by returning most of the nutrients it takes from it.
Hemp is so remarkable in making fiber that it challenged the cotton industry. And as bans continue to lift around the globe, the potential to use hemp fabric to create better clothing grows.
How is Hemp Fabric Made?
There are different ways to make hemp fabric, some better than others. But it all starts with the long strands of fibre from hemp’s stalk. These fibres have to be peeled off from the bark through a process called retting. This process can be industrialized with chemicals and enzymes, or naturally by weathering, which means leaving it to the elements.
For the natural process of dew retting, the hemp stalks are left outside, laying on the ground, to break down naturally. Then, nature does its thing and after a few weeks, the fibres are ready to be spun together, creating a long thread that’s then woven into a fabric.
So, Is Hemp Fabric Sustainable?
The hemp crop on its own is a staple in sustainability, especially when compared to cotton. Organic cotton is one of the most sustainable fibers available... Yet hemp is 2x as efficient as cotton per hectare, 4x per unit of water, and 3x stronger, making a strong case for hemp as the most sustainable fiber in the world.
Because hemp is stronger, you get longer-lasting products. And it’s also way better for soil, as hemp returns nutrients back to it.
So yes! Hemp is a staple of sustainability—both as a crop and as a fabric.
However, there are ways of processing hemp fabric that strip it of some of its sustainable nature. Some companies opt to process hemp with a chemical-intensive process to create hemp rayon since it’s cheaper and faster. Unfortunately, there’s a high environmental cost for creating rayon, and the only sustainability gains for these products are from the raw material itself.
When shopping for hemp clothing, make sure you’re buying organic, sustainably processed hemp. This can be through both the lyocell process, or the mechanical (or natural) retting process.
When processed sustainably, these are a few of hemp’s best sustainable qualities:
Natural hemp fabric is biodegradable and compostable
Returns nutrients to the soil
Hemp’s exceptional at carbon sequestration!
Planting hemp in damaged soil can help in restoring the soil’s health.
Qualities & Benefits of Hemp Fabric
Besides being an environmentally-friendly crop that uses little water and has no need for pesticides, hemp is also loaded with natural properties that make it ideal for textiles and clothing.
One of the strongest fibers
Its tensile strength it’s 8x stronger than any other natural fiber, which makes it a long-lasting textile. It’s suitable for rugged applications and a great substitute for synthetic fibers. Plus, stronger means you need less material!
It regulates body temperature and it’s super breathable
Hemp fabric is temperature regulating, meaning it’ll keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
No harmful UV rays for those wearing hemp
Hemp naturally protects your skin from UV rays, making it perfect for everyday wear and it’s an outstanding fabric for outdoor gear and apparel. Its UV-resistant nature also means the fabric won’t fade in sunlight.
It has lots of antibacterial properties, which means it keeps your skin healthy, and keeps your clothes from developing funky smells. This means less washing and more wearing.
Hemp fabric is known as one of the fastest-drying natural fibers out there, making it suitable for potentially replacing synthetics in athletic apparel.
When processed naturally, hemp has a texture that’s similar to linen, which makes it great for clothing, bedding, and other textiles. Plus, it wears in, not out. Unlike cotton, wool, and other fibers, hemp gets softer and cozier with every use and every wash. The more you wear it, the better it gets.
How We’re Using Hemp!
We’re gearing up to launch our new line of sustainable hats—made mostly out of hemp! A quarter of our soon-to-launch hats are 100% hemp, while the other ¾ of the collection uses up to 45% hemp fiber.
Soon, you’ll be able to rock the most sustainable hats in the world. They’re 100% plastic free and we’ll have new designs dropping every month. Stay tuned to our launch by subscribing to our email list!