HEMP: Making a Comeback

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Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers today. Widely misunderstood and undervalued for its usefulness, industrial hemp fiber has inherent insulating properties that wick moisture and helps block UVA and UVB rays. As a crop, it is naturally resistant to pests and therefore does not require heavy use of toxic pest and herbicides. As a fabric, like bamboo, hemp has natural antibacterial and anti-mold properties and happens to use a fraction of the water that cotton requires to grow. When it comes to growing, hemp is similar to linen, another stalk fiber.

Hemp is a traditional fiber crop which can be grown in a wide range of climates including the UK, Canada and Australia. This low input crop needs few chemicals and is easy to grow organically. The fabrics produced are renowned for their durability and ability to “breathe”. Bioregional solutions for Sustainability recently posted information on the UK’s movement toward industrial hemp production for clothing purposes.

USES FOR HEMP

  • Clothing (all kinds, but primarily heavier, sturdier fabric items such as pants, shoes, handbags, sweaters, jackets, etc). Hemp CAN be made into T-shirts, blankets, shorts and softer, thinner items but these generally require more processing since the natural fiber does organically possess thickness.
  • Food Products: hemp seed oil, hemp oil, toasted seeds, coffee, flour, protein powders and bars.
  • Beauty products: lotions, butters, crèmes, lipware, oils, perfumes.
  • Construction materials.
  • Ropes, bags and other heavy duty fiber use.
  • Other uses.

HEMP PRODUCTION
Hemp is legal to grow and produce in Canada since 1998. Industrial hemp is entirely different than marijuana. Check out this CNN video on Hemp production in Canada with a focus on one company, Manitoba. They export $10 million /year in hemp food products alone. Products include a number of oils, coffee, protein powders, toasted hemp seeds, flours and other items. They also make a variety of body care products and other products including varieties of hemp oil (cold pressed, cold filtered).

Interestingly, Canada requires testing of all crops during the growing season. Samples are taken of the crop and sent to authorized testing labs for THC composition readings. Maximum level of THC allowed in industrial hemp crop in Canada is.3%. For comparison, marijuana is anywhere between 5 – 20% THC, so there is a significant difference, which makes the management of industrial hemp production rather straight forward and feasible.

HEMP CLOTHING STORES
Looking for a clothing store near you that sells Hemp products?

Well, you just might be in luck! A new website has launched Hemp Clothing Stores for specifically this purpose: to help consumers find Hemp stores all across the country. The site uses a digital map which you can customize to your own interests (flagging favorites etc.). However, when I tried it out for the Maryland/DC area, I did run into problems. My guess is that they are still working out some of the programming glitches, but the idea is a great one. Now we need one for green clothing in general, including organic cotton, bamboo and tencel.

Hempest founded in 1995, has the goal of bringing hemp back to the marketplace and into public discourse. With the belief that the market is the best place to bring out change, Hempest aims to create good products at a reasonable price to simultaneously raise awareness on the value of this plant. Hempest has an urban, alternative beat to it, with a focus on causal, alternative, comfortable clothing wear. They have two stories in Boston (Harvard Square and Newbury Street), North Hampton, MA and one in Burlington VT.

For an short video on the harvesting of hemp for hemp oil and food products click on the link.

Braintree Hemp is a globally established hemp company originating in Australia and supplying to stores all across Australia as well as London and anywhere through their online store. For them, hemp clothing is not just about high quality products, but it is also about the environmental advantages of the fibre– from cultivating and processing through to the manufacture of the textile. They also have a robust on-line store with purchasing capabilities in Euros, Pounds and US dollar.

A variety of other stores also sell a selection of hemp clothing and brands. The stores highlighted here on this post are merely those that are devoted purely to hemp fiber. Photo Source for both Photos: Flickr.

CHALLENGE: While hemp IS becoming more and more mainstream, in reviewing several of the companies that are out there using hemp, it seems that at least in the USA it is still alternative, associated with urban-street, casual attire and is sill co-branding with some marijuana-esque symbolisms and references. While this is hitting a market niche, I would argue that there is value to hemp that can and should go beyond an alternative market. Hemp needs to be positioned as a mainstream fiber even more and given the credibility it deserves as a low impact, sustainable, multi-use fiber that definitely has a place in the fashion world. While it would help if it could be legally growm in the US, the fact that it is widely available in Canada should not stop retailers from integrating this fiber into some of their lines. Some already are and hats off to them.

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