Will Hemp Become the Ultimate Answer to Sustainable Fashion?

It is an astonishing fact that the origin of the word “canvas” comes from the word “cannabis”. Canvas is defined as a sturdy cloth made from hemp or flax,”, in old french it was referred to as chanevaz “canvas,” literally “made of hemp, hempen,” *cannapaceus “made of hemp,” from the Latin, and the Greek kannabis “hemp,” a Scythian or Thracian word.

Hemp is an indigenous plant of Central Asia. It was used extensively for ropes, canvas, ships, fiber, clothing, and shelter till the mid-19th century. It is one of the earliest cultivated crops by humans. Let us explore what history holds for us with regard to hemp.

  • The Indian Vedas, a collection of hymns and religious texts define hemp as one of the five sacred plants of the Earth.
  • Hemp seeds have been found in archaeological excavations over much of the World.
  • Chinese tombs have some of the oldest hemp-made paper.
  • Traces of hemp cloth have also been found in Egyptian tombs.
  • The first drafts of the American Constitution were written on hemp paper.

Hemp fiber is extremely durable and strong. Cloth made from hemp is cheap and long-lasting. The textile industry is one of the biggest consumer-based industries which is also, unfortunately, the second most polluting industry in the world.

Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year, and washing some types of clothes sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean.

The fashion industry is also the second-largest consumer of water worldwide. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt. That’s enough water for one person to drink at least eight cups per day for three-and-a-half years.

It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. That’s more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years. That’s because both jeans and shirts are made from a highly water-intensive plant: cotton.

Compared to cotton, hemp clearly has more advantages when it comes to health and environmental benefits. To produce 1kg of cotton, growers may require more than 20,000 liters of water. A single kg of dry hemp, on the other hand, can be made using just 300-500 liters of water.

Furthermore, 30% of this can be used for fiber production. Hemp roots have characteristics to nourish soil whereas cotton does not. Cotton uses double the territory of land to grow when compared to hemp. Lastly, hemp is stronger and more durable than cotton. It gets better with time and each wash.  

The textile industry is full of innovations and new ideas which are ever-changing. To enjoy the ever-changing fashion trends without harming mother earth, the industry should think of more sustainable ideas.

Hemp is a way forward for sustainable fashion. The whole world is talking about the hemp industry, developing their research methodology by taking their inspiration from the traditional use of hemp.

It’s like a hemp revolution!

Levi’s being one of the biggest clothing companies, which dates back to 1853, recently introduced its Spring and Summer 2021 Wellthread which included garments made with 55% of hemp fabric.

Governmental Regulations in India on Hemp Textile Industry

Will hemp become the answer to sustainable fashion
Photo by Teona Swift

For industrial purposes, cannabis is referred to as “Hemp” and more commonly as “Industrial Hemp”. The differentiation of cannabis, hemp, and marijuana has not been done much in the past. Today, with technological advancement, scientific research, and regulatory framework the concentration of THC present in the plant differentiates between the three.

The Farm Bill, 2018 introduced in the USA defined the concentration of THC in the ratio of 0.3% in cannabis for industrial use. India also has adopted the ratio of 0.3% THC for use of industrial hemp. Presently, States like Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh have opened up their gates for the hemp industry by introducing policies for research and cultivation.

Challenges Faced By The Hemp Textile Industry

The hemp textile industry is relatively new, taking baby steps. It would be harsh to call the problems faced by the industry as challenges. The industry definitely has few shortcomings. So more than challenges, the industry is gaining pace and making few observations.

  •         Lack of friendly policies and regulations;
  •         Lack of seeds for growing industrial hemp of THC 0.3%;
  •         Lack of agricultural knowledge on industrial hemp;
  •         Lack of infrastructure and machinery to convert fiber into yarn;
  •         Lack of technological innovation in the country about hemp textile;
  •         Lack of awareness and more of reluctance towards hemp;

We spoke to Anup Agarwal, a clothing merchant dealing with natural fabrics. Talking about the hemp textile industry Anup discussed a few interesting facts and concerns. He stated, “Hemp textile industry is an age-old industry, which is gaining momentum now. The demand for hemp textile has always been there and there might be an increased demand for blended fabrics like cotton and hemp or linen and hemp. But the unregulated and unorganized nature of the industry makes it difficult to carry out business activities. The hemp textile industry is yet to be explored with its industrial and environmental uses when compared to cotton or linen”.

He further added, “For example, you cannot determine if the textile is genuine of the claimed hemp composition or how to determine the price of the hemp textile”.

The use of industrial hemp has gained momentum in India in the last 5-7 years. With governments relaxing the rigid hemp policies, hemp is the talk of the town again. BOHECO (Bombay Hemp Company) is one of the first companies in India which has been working extensively with the government in the hemp industry. They have a fashion brand in the name of blabel, which is working in the space of hemp clothing and has gained popularity amongst the masses.

Other hemp clothing brands are also sowing their seeds in the textile industry and making fashion more sustainable. A lot of innovation is needed in the hemp textile industry, encouraging people for sustainable living, educating farmers about hemp farming, advocating for clarity in regulations, and making a global market for the industry.

Talking about hemp textile it is unavoidable to mention the biggest producer, China. China has the biggest hemp textile industry in the world and is the biggest exporter as well. It is a powerhouse producing more than 1/3rd of the world’s hemp textile.

With substantial advancements in techniques of hemp processing, a product called “cottonized hemp” has been developed which is similar to hemp in processability and feel. Chinese hemp textile is considered to be the best as no country other than China has the production line for hemp textile. In 2019, the estimated total area of hemp cultivation was around 66700 hectares in China.

The use of hemp in history and by our ancestors is an undeniable fact but for the past 60-70 years, the use of hemp has seen a deteriorating graph. It is only associated with a widespread image of “getting high”. 

This raises a question – Are we modern humans, the most technologically advanced species, missing something that our ancestors understood perfectly? They understood a way to live in harmony with nature.

Pallavi S. Maheshwari
Pallavi S. Maheshwari
Advocate working towards social upliftment and sustainable development. Here to gather knowledge and write.

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