It’s a known commodity with quite the checkered past. Often misunderstood and misrepresented by the media, this plant has created division and hesitancy in its use cases across multiple industries for decades, fashion included. Banned from production by the US government in 1937 and subsequently recanted thanks to the Farm Bill of 2018, it has received new life: a bright, eco-friendly future of endless possibilities for sustainable clothing. Yet, with familial ties to a budding industry, high-end fashion brands have not truly considered adopting it as a sustainable fabric. What am I talking about?
Hemp. That’s right: the sister species of the often-maligned, psychoactive inducing, THC producing, cannabis sativa – better known as marijuana. Fashion and other industries marked hemp guilty by association, and have been slow to capitalize on the plant as a sustainable material source. Instead brands opt to use more traditional material sources such as cotton, synthetic fibers like polyester, and man-made cellulose fibers (MMCFs) to produce their clothing lines. These are proven commodities that provide consumers with the looks and experiences they expect when shopping for luxury fashion.
However, the changing attitudes of the modern fashion consumer have stimulated a demand for sustainable material sourcing. Consumers want fashion that is environmentally conscious and sustainably sourced. Brands are searching for more sustainable material sources to update their modus operandi and combat their industry’s environmental footprint. For hemp, this presents an opportunity for usages of this undervalued plant on a wider scale. Hemp is scientifically proven to be one of the better sustainable material sources in the world. With this in mind, ask yourself – should your brand consider sourcing hemp-based fabrics to create a focused, sustainable hemp fashion line?
An Agriculturally Sustainable Plant
Hemp cultivation’s wide array of environmental benefits make it an appealing plant to use as a textile source. Hemp is:
- Carbon negative – Hemp absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its growth than what the equipment used to harvest, process, and transport it emits. In fact, hemp absorbs more carbon dioxide per hectare than any forest or commercial crop, making it an ideal carbon sink.
- A soil enhancer – The long, deep roots of the hemp plant bind soil to combat erosion. A process known as phytoremediation allows the plant to clean toxins in the soil, particularly metals, such as copper, lead, and mercury, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs).
- Does not need pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides – The chemical compounds found in hemp make it naturally strong against pests and mold. In addition, the rapid growth of its canopy blocks light to prevent weeds from growing underneath the plant.
- Can be grown in a variety of different climates – Although the plant prefers a mild climate with a humid atmosphere, it is a durable plant that at maturity, can tolerate temperatures as low as 29 degrees Fahrenheit
A Versatile Textile Fiber
Cultivating hemp has environmental perks that make it a solid, alternative, sustainable textile source for your brand, but you must be wondering – how does hemp the fiber compare to its constituents? Let’s examine these key elements:
- Durability – Due to its antimicrobial properties, hemp fibers are incredibly strong and durable. Clothing made by hemp stays cleaner and holds its shape for a longer period of time.
- Softness – Hemp fibers are known for a grittier material texture, hence why we tend to see it used to make ropes, paper, and insulation. Interestingly enough, however, in fashion, as you continue to wear and wash your hemp-made clothing, it softens, taking on an almost identical softness to cotton. Simply put, the more a hemp garment is worn, the softer it gets.
- Absorbency – Hemp fibers are a good canvas for natural dyes, making them adaptable to all kinds of colors and designs. In addition, they blend well with other fabrics, like cotton and polyester, to give clothing the durability and strength it needs to last while having a fashionable look.
- Thermo-regulating – Similar to linen, hemp fibers have excellent thermo-regulating properties. Clothing made from hemp fibers will keep you feeling cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather.
- Can be used to make a variety of different fashion products – Clothing is not the only byproduct of hemp fiber. You can use these fibers to produce unique handbags, backpacks, gloves, hats, belts, shoes, and beauty products.
Regions that Cultivate Hemp
Hemp is cultivated all over the world in a variety of different climates. However, we believe that Italy’s unique Mediterranean climate and volcanic mixed soils offer the best environments for hemp cultivation. More than 800 farms across the country cultivate 4,000 hectares of hemp intended for textiles, food, and cosmetics. Each farm follows strict guidelines set forth by the EU and Italian government and are required to certify their crop varieties in the EU plant catalog. With an added emphasis on a high standard of quality for growth, Italy is an attractive location partner for sourcing high-quality, pesticide-free, organically grown hemp for your brand.
The two top Italian regions for hemp cultivation are:
- Tuscany – Located in central Italy between the Apennines and Tyrrhenian Sea, this region has a rich agricultural tradition of producing high-quality commodities such as wheat, olives, and grapes. With warm weather ideal for cultivating hemp, this region mixes its tradition with its climate to produce high-quality hemp.
- Puglia – This southern region of Italy surrounded by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas is well-known for its vegetable cultivation. It is also an epicenter for Italy’s southern hemp industry, where the plant is processed into fibers and used to enrich the soils of the region. Similar to Tuscany, a rich agricultural tradition here emphasizes high-quality.
Other regions across Italy that cultivate hemp include Piemonte, Sicilia, Emilia-Romagna, Basilicata, and Sardegna.
Building up hemp as a reputable sustainable fabric source will not happen overnight. A checkered past, recently lifted government restrictions, and the need for more scientific study present challenges for the mass adoption of hemp, particularly in high-end fashion. However, with the environmental benefits of its cultivation and the versatility it offers to brands and designers as a textile fiber, hemp opens the door to the possibilities of a greener, more sustainable fashion ecosystem.