Last updated on August 30, 2021
‘Hemp’ – The fashion industry is keenly seeking sustainable fabric. Support ethical clothing, choose hemp. Save yourself, save the planet.
The modern globalized digital world prominently influences consumers in a lot of ways and has mightily altered the consumption patterns. Starting with what we eat, drink, wear, where and how we live, in almost every aspect of our day-to-day life! On the other hand, this transformational phase is also boosting awareness and concern for protecting our environment and saving the planet, in order to progress towards more sustainable living.
Let us look at some trends in the consumption pattern of clothes especially in the EU. The clothing purchased per person has increased by 40% in just a few decades. What could be some logical reasons that we could think of?!
Reduced prices, easy accessibility, online shopping, and the rapid speed at which fashion trends get replaced, Mass media, Social media, and so on.
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According to the European Environment Agency EEA, clothing alone accounts for between 2% and 10% of the environmental impact of EU consumption. People spend around 5 % of their household expenditure on clothing and footwear. Overall accounting to approximately 6.4 million tonnes of new clothing, which is about 12.66 kg per person.
This report estimated that between 1996 and 2012, the volume of clothes bought per person in the EU increased by 40%. At the same time, more than 30% of the clothes that were purchased were not even used for at least a year!
Unfortunately, when these clothes are ready to be disposed of and replaced by new sets of clothes, half of them are not even recycled. Some get mixed up in household waste, and the remaining is sent into incinerators or landfills.
This is not only a problem for the EU but a global issue to be solved on a more conscientious as well as at a proactive level. In the quest for sustainable alternative sources for natural fiber for fabrics, Hemp is one of the products that textile Industries have started innovating upon.
What is Hemp?
Hemp, also known as industrial hemp, is a strain of the Cannabis Sativa plant. The derivatives of the plant are specifically grown for industrial use. It is noteworthy to understand that the drug cannabis and industrial hemp both are derivatives of the same species of plant but the varying compositional quantities of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) clearly distinguishes its use. That is, the proportion of THC and CBD determines the psychoactive effects. Industrial hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of CBD.
Studies show that hemp fiber was one of the first to be spun 10,000 years ago. They were used for textiles, paper, biofuel, food, animal feed, and several other purposes. Although it is encouraging to rediscover the widespread uses of hemp, the misconception in the minds of people that it is related to ‘getting high’ is definitely a setback. Also, the legality of industrial hemp widely varies in many countries.
Tracing Hemp Fabric from History
The history of hemp fabric can be traced back to 8000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, confirming its presence in the history of human evolution. Also during the middle ages, it was the most important crop for food and fiber. Sailing ships relied heavily on Canvas, ropes, oakum, made from hemp because of its saltwater resistance, and also it was 3 times stronger.
The Chinese history traces hemp cultivation around the 28th Century BC, indicating that people were taught to cultivate hemp for cloth. They were the pioneers to recognize the usefulness of hemp in making the world’s first paper from hemp, alongside medicinal usage. From around 1200BC Hemp arrived in Europe and slowly started spreading to other countries.
The French and Russian history of hemp cultivation dates back to hundreds of years followed by Spain and Chile.
Dating back to the middle ages, hemp gained economic and social value when Henry VIII passed an act compelling all landowners to sow hemp in 1/4 of an acre or be fined. During this period hemp was a major crop and up to the 1920s 80% of clothing was made from it.
The United States of America
American history of hemp is alluring. Beginning with North America, hemp grew in almost every state including California, Kentucky, New York, Oregon, Utah, Texas, New England, Virginia, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Missouri.
Nevertheless with such abundant natural availability that played a dominant role in the early development of the country, due to the labor intensity of hemp harvesting, cotton began to replace hemp to a large extent.
Firstly, the invention of the mechanical cotton gin, made the processing of cotton easier and faster, supporting mass commercial production. Although there was some invention of machinery to process hemp, it couldn’t withstand the rapid growth of the cotton market.
Secondly, some of the large and powerful petroleum-based synthetic textile Industries involved in government lobbying. Tax levies and prohibitions increased.
Consequently, the demand for by-products of hemp replaced hemp fabric, and altogether concealed the mere existence of hemp fabric, leading to banning the growth of this invaluable crop and kept the public disillusioned.
As opposed to America, Canadian markets gave a warm welcome to Hemp because of the strong support from the government subsidizing the crop, distributing seeds to farmers, incentivizing producers, and financing for mills. The objective behind this was to become a self-sufficient economy by increasing exports.
Hemp clothing and products in the market today
A wide range of hemp clothing categories is briskly capturing markets today. Shirts, jeans, shoes, socks, coats, hats, pants, wallets, bags, scarves, ties, belts, handkerchiefs, robes, etc. Fashion designers are constantly seeking sustainable fabric to revive the Industry. The increase in popularity of Hemp fiber is because of the fact that it is:
- the most durable, among all plant fiber
- porous and breathable
- environment friendly as they help save up to 50% water for cultivation compared to cotton and require no pesticides, hence they are eco-friendly & sustainable.
- absorbent, and has antimicrobial properties.
Considering that, the textile industry is still at the infant stages of realizing the potential of hemp, the Hemp Farming Act 2018 in the US, has opened a gateway to cash crop opportunities for farmers.
Therefore, there is an opportunity for more countries to join this initiative that would enable an increase in supply, awareness, access, as well as accelerate the growth in the Industry.
Plastics made from the stalk of hemp are also gaining popularity. As they are both biodegradable and recyclable, henceforth address global policies for CO2 reduction and oil dependence.
Certainly, with the interconnectedness of countries in the globalized world focused on sustainability and impeding carbon footprint, hemp can be at the forefront of many eco-friendly practices and sustainable living.
In short, support ethical clothing by wearing clothes made from hemp, use hemp products, and practice the art of sustainable living. Save yourself. Save the planet!