Hemp Clothing: Trend or Real Value?

by Mike-Dave Ayeni
Sustainable Fashion Writer

Although this interesting fabric has been around for millennia, hemp clothing is becoming a rising trend in fabric choice for sustainable fashion. Currently, it has become the major raw material used in the manufacturing of thousands of products. 

Considering the controversy following the use of the plant for its psychoactive properties, it is understandable that questions have arisen about its use in fashion, its benefits, level of sustainability, how valuable it is, and whether it is worth the hype. In this article, we will be providing information to help answer some of these questions.

A Quick Overview of How Hemp Clothing is Made

Hemp clothing is made from hemp, the textile strain of the Cannabis sativa plant which was intentionally bred to possess less psychoactive capabilities, and for better, more durable fibre instead. This lightweight fabric is woven from the long fibrous strands obtained from the outer layer of the stalks of the plant.

First, the plants are harvested at about four months old, to go through the retting procedure, which is how the fibres are separated from the stalk. Retting is a process by which hemp stalks are soaked in water or allowed to decay in the presence of moisture to help break down most of the substances that hold the fibres of the stalk together. This process can take anywhere from seven to forty days, depending on temperature.

Next, the extracted fibres are finely combed into strands which are spun into a yarn that can be woven into cloth, which is then used in making the hemp outfits we now see. The extracted hemp fibres can also be made into extremely durable ropes, canvas, and other useful materials.

What Are The Benefits of Hemp Clothing?

Hemp clothing has been found to have many uses and advantages, both in fashion and in its effect on the environment.

It has many benefits across all levels of the cultivation, production, and use of the final product.

The Cultivational Benefits of Hemp include:

  1. High Carbon Negativity

The cultivation of the hemp plant itself has been found to greatly consume atmospheric carbon dioxide. Research carried out on the cultivation of hemp has proven it to be a most effective carbon sink, able to absorb up to two times as much carbon as actual forests per hectare of cultivation- an impressive advantage. This means that the cultivation process alone consumes more carbon than it may produce during processing, especially when using ethical and environmentally friendly processing methods. The coolest part is, the carbon dioxide soaked up by the plants during cultivation remains sealed to their fibers even during processing.

  1. Low Water Consumption Rate

The cultivation of hemp saves the environment a lot of water since it requires much less water than cotton cultivation. It takes at least 50 percent less water to cultivate hemp than it does to cultivate the same amount of cotton, and with production processes included, the numbers go up to five times more, with hemp requiring about 300-500 litres of water for and cotton, 2400 litres per kilogram processed. This means that choosing hemp saves our environment about 2000 litres of water on each kilogram of fabric.

  1. Hemp requires a lot less land for cultivation

The hemp plant does not need as much space to grow. In addition to water, cotton requires at least two times as much land as hemp does to produce one ton of processed fabric. Also, it is such a low-maintenance plant, it can be grown anywhere in the world, in practically any kind of climate.

  1. Hemp has remedial properties that are good for the soil

It gets better. Hemp has been found to have properties that enable it to purify the soil it grows in. The hemp plant is capable of carrying out phytoremediation, which is a process by which the roots of the plant sink deep into the soil to soak up harmful and toxic contaminants. Once these substances are cleaned out of the soil, they are stored harmlessly within the plants, which may then be extracted during processing.

  1. The hemp plant has an incredibly fast growth rate

The hemp plant grows to reach maturity in just three to four short months (approximately 90-120 days), compared to cotton's 160 days. And because it has shallow root requirements, it can be cultivated in a greenhouse, which means that under controlled conditions, hemp can be harvested up to two or three times a year.

  1. It is a hundred percent recyclable

Because the hemp plant does not require pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals to grow, the super fabric is entirely biodegradable, able to fully decompose in 3-6 months. In addition to this, it can also be recycled practically endlessly, into new fabric, packaging, paper, bioplastics- the list goes on!

It is super friendly to the environment, reusable, and entirely sustainable.

Being such a low requirement plant, when done ethically, the cultivation of hemp alone is capable of bringing about such a milestone in sustainability in fashion, it's astounding. Hemp is practically a super plant, simultaneously doing the work of vacuuming CO2 from the atmosphere, conserving water as well as land in its cultivation. The sheer amount of benefits this one plant has so far is astounding, but there's more!

The Benefits of Wearing Hemp Clothing

Hemp fabric has so many proven benefits in use, it's almost too good to be true. From comfort to protection, hemp has truly got you covered:

  1. Hemp fabric is lightweight and highly breathable

Hemp fibres are very light and easy to wear. Also possessing wicking abilities, hemp is capable of drawing away moisture from the body's surface such that you are kept cool in warmer seasons and warm during the cold seasons. It is so breathable, it wicks out odours as well. This means that in addition to having thermoregulating properties that help keep you comfortable at optimal temperatures, hemp fabric takes away the trouble of dealing with that ripe smell after a long sweaty day. A totally sweet deal. 

  1. Hemp is an extremely comfortable and highly durable fabric

Hemp cloth has the superpower of getting softer and comfier with each wash but also staying strong and lasting long, unlike cotton which tends to wear and break down the softer it gets. The natural fibres of hemp have an amazing tensile strength that can withstand stress and wear, long enough to get that 'broken in' effect we love to get from our favourite clothes. This means that the quality of the textile is maintained even after many washes. The advantage this gives is an outfit that will last long, look great, and feel even greater.

Also because it is so durable, it can be used to create strong, lightweight bags that can handle carrying weighty items. Bags made or lined with hemp are less likely to be stressed under carrying the same weight as other materials. 

  1. Hemp fabric is highly versatile and can be used to create all kinds of fashion items

This beautiful fabric comes in a range of natural, neutral shades, can be dyed in wonderful prints with ethical dyeing processes, and can be woven in a plethora of ways. It does not always have to look like a potato sack.

Hemp fabric, when successfully dyed does not easily lose colour, and so it will be a while yet before your green hemp sweater fades. It can also be very finely woven and made into any kind of fashion outfit and item, from shirts to skirts, tote bags, sandals, and dresses, hemp has boundless potential.

  1. The fabric possesses cool bacteria-killing, anti-microbial properties

Hemp cannot support the growth of microbes and so, unlike your regular cotton shirt, is unlikely to grow mouldy. This is also how it removes odours. Hemp clothing is capable of protecting its wearer from bacteria by actively fighting the growth of the microbes. This property ensures that it does not need as many washes as other fabrics and can be used for longer between washes so long as it is properly aired out. Talk about sustainable, healthy clothing.

  1. Hemp clothing is also hypoallergenic

For conscious consumers with sensitive skin, hemp is here to save the day. Because of its organic production process, hemp is a non-irritating fabric, able even to protect the skin against UV radiation by its excellent ultraviolet rays filtering properties. There are no worries about rashes, itching, swelling, or any other allergic skin reaction when it comes to wearing hemp.

Although there exist textile companies that employ unsustainable hemp production practices to hasten hemp production and increase yield by treating the fibres with chemicals and processing them mechanically, sustainable hemp textile suppliers can be spotted through their transparency measures and they can be supported.

Hemp has shown much promise so far and is proving to be the gift that keeps on giving in making the sustainable and healthy textile choice, and so it is definitely a trend to support and watch out for.

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