What is the environmental cost of one cotton tee? In some parts of the world, it amounts to 2.7k litres of water, 1.2 pounds of fossil fuel, .1-pound pesticide and .2 pounds of fertilizer. That’s just for manufacturing and transporting just one single cotton tee. If you dive deep into the figures, you will find that it accounts for serving one person with enough water for a whopping 2.5 years. And to think that large parts of the world still reel under drought and water is becoming a rare commodity by the day. Obviously, other more refined textiles and elaborate dress types demand a significantly higher environmental cost. Let’s analyze the use and benefit of hemp as a textile.

Can hemp help our environmental footprint?

In the present environmental context, it is simply not acceptable. But, in reality, things are getting worse. From 2000 to 2014, apparel sales have surged by 60 percent. Further, the lifespan of a single piece of clothing has been reduced by half. So, while it is easy to blame high fashion for its costly environmental footprint, the need of the hour is a potential solution and not just playing the blame game. In this context, people can turn to an ancient and forgotten form of textile—hemp fibre.

As professional circles refer to using the term hemp fibre, industrial hemp is derived from the outer phloem of the Sativa variety of cannabis plants. While both hemp and marijuana are produced from Cannabis Sativa, the former contains only 1 percent THC. In comparison, the latter figure jumps to 20 percent.

The fibre you obtain from the plant has various notable properties. It can be dyed with ease, it readily conducts heat, is resistant to mildew, blocks the sun’s UV rays and has significant anti-bacterial properties as well. Many industries have already woken up to the potential of the resurgent fabric like:

  • Paper
  • Construction
  • Biodegradable plastic
  • Health food
  • It is used to clean up fuel and chemicals
  • And even the automobile industry uses the fibre for its strength, acting as door panel reinforcements

An ancient solution

Obviously, hemp is nothing new to human beings at all. Since the Chinese Neolithic times, people have used it, and cannabis was, in fact, one of the very first domesticated plants. Its use was widespread amongst ancient Indians, Chinese and Egyptians. The popularity of the fabric continued well in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. People found new and new ways to use industrial hemp. For example, European seafarers used it as fabric for ropes and sails. In addition, some of the most celebrated artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn used canvases made of the material. We can rave on and on with hemp’s rendezvous with history as the list goes on and. Sadly though, the Industrial Revolution made cotton more cost-effective and efficient, which saw the decline of the popularity of hemp as a fibre. But none knew that its short-term efficiency might exhort such a severe environmental cost.

In the face of the ongoing global environmental crisis, we need to turn to sustainable fibres soon. The faster this transformation, the better it is for life on earth. And when talking about the options we currently have, hemp is a familiar textile with which we can build the future of clothing and apparel. Hemp’s boats of the rare property of being carbon negative absorbing CO2 air from their surroundings. It requires 50% less water than present-day cotton and is thrice as strong in tensile strength. Further, hemp can be easily mixed with other types of fibre. The cultivation of the crop is not draining on the soil, translates to minimal fertilizers and returns the ground of almost three-fourths of the nutrient intake.

Hemp as future fashion

Since the eighties of the previous century, hemp is no longer the coarse clothing befitting of early-times peasants. Scientists today can remove lignin from the fibre without making the textile weak. As a result, hemp as a textile is an excellent substitute for cotton. It is close to being the linen of the twenty-first century. It is porous, breathable and does not dye off easily. Further, its shape-retaining, UV ray blocking and anti-bacterial properties make it stand out as a cotton alternative.

Accordingly, some of the biggest names in the world of high fashion like Ralph Lauren, Armani and Calvin Klein already boast of hemp textile-based clothing collections. Even sportswear brands like Patagonia and Nike use it in their athletic apparel.

Hemp as a textile
Image by Ellen26, Courtesy of Pixabay

It is no more a matter of we can, but instead, it is we must. It looks like linen feels like cotton and is the strongest natural fibre. As aware, conscientious global citizens, we must embrace sustainable textile options before it’s too late!

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