Been wondering if hemp is right for your business? Durable, versatile and so on trend, hemp fabric has the potential to be the sustainable fabric heavyweight in the coming years.
About 67% of us are taking our wardrobes ‘green’, naming sustainable practices as what inspires us to add clothing to our cart. And for good reason! The development of clothing (and footwear) contributes a whopping 10% of CO emissions and uses over 79 billion cubic metres of water each year. Switching to sustainable fabrics is only part of what will contribute to a more sustainable global fashion industry. It’s a part of our mission here at Epic to encourage kiwi businesses to choose the best long-term practices. So, let's look at the top 5 hemp clothing benefits, for you, your planet and your business.
What is hemp?
Sorry, Hemp won't get you high.
For years, hemp production faced significant legal obstacles. Largely, this was due to the belief the growth of commercial hemp for textile production would also lead to the growth of marijuana (the plant that gets you high), despite the two being genetically different! The hemp plant your clothes are made from contains around 0.05% TCH (the stuff that gets you high); Marijuana, or ‘weed’ by comparison, has between 3-5%THC.
(p.s. Best case scenario, smoking hemp works as a laxative…)
More so, the useful bit of the hemp plant comes from the stalk, as this is where the fibres for clothes come from. For those planting Marijuana for its psychoactive properties, the focus is on maximising leaf growth. This results in two pretty different plants. Even so, it’s been slow-going changing attitudes around the production of commercial hemp.
Plastic and chemically developed fabrics, such as polyester, nylon and viscose are losing popularity, as a growing consumer consciousness turns toward sustainability. However, there is often confusion between what makes a material organic vs. natural.
Natural fabric is any that comes from ‘nature’; for example plant-based fabrics such as cotton, bamboo or hemp, or animal-based fabrics such as wool, cashmere and alpaca. In order to be considered ‘organic’, no chemicals or plastics should be added throughout the process. This means some ‘natural’ fabrics, such as Bamboo clothing, cannot be considered organic, as it requires a chemical process to become fabric (often re-labelled as Viscose).
Organic Plant-based Fabrics:
Organic Animal-based Fabrics:
Note that ‘Cotton’ does not appear on this list. In fact, a SINGLE cotton t-shirt uses a whopping 9464 Litres of water to be grown and manufactured. Inorganic cotton production is one of the most ecologically damaging processes in the world; using 16% of the world's insecticides and $2 Billion in pesticides each year. Each 1 tonne of conventional cotton fibre produces 1.8 tonnes of CO2e. By comparison, hemp’s impact on the environment is minimal, as it requires less land, less water and no pesticides, only takes a few months to mature, can be planted in the same soil repetitively for up to 20 years and can even restore the soil it is grown within.
It also generates less waste and is more durable than most other fabrics (more on that soon),
So, what's stopping hemp being the no.1 used fabric in the world?
Cotton is cheaper to make than hemp fabric. (For now)
Non-organic cotton can cost as little as $2 per kg, whereas ‘cottonized’ hemp starts at $4 per kg. While the cost of land, water and chemicals to produce hemp is far lower than cotton, cotton's scale of production is much larger ( 92% of natural fibres come from cotton, compared to hemp's 0.5%). Hemp clothing manufacturers also require more time to transform the raw material into fibres, as machines have to be altered to make quality hemp fabric.
Importing hemp clothing to NZ requires more initial investment than other clothing options. Taking this into consideration, there may be a temptation to settle for the cheapest option. Why bother to pay more for a fabric that's more expensive than its alternatives?
The commercial production of hemp generates an environmentally sound alternative to the likes of cotton, provides farmers safer jobs away from dangerous pesticides and is linked with FairTrade agreements across the globe. The commercial production of hemp also creates eco-friendly building materials, alternatives to plastics and possibly fuel, provides medicine and is a great source for protein rich flour and oil… Here’s a great summary of Ways Hemp Can Save the Planet | Environmental Benefits of Hemp (hempnz.co.nz)
Hemp is a super-fabric! It is the strongest natural fibre, is resistant to UV light, mold and mildew and has antibacterial properties. Moreso, it lasts a lot longer: while the lifespan of a cotton tee often taps out around the 10 year mark, hemp t-shirts can survive 30 or 40 years of regular use. Why does this matter? With trends leaning towards slow fashion, durability, and avoiding fast-fashion trends and the expectation to renew your wardrobe every season, longevity is key.
Jeans, jackets, t-shirts, socks, shorts, skirts; summer and springtime dresses to durable workmans tees and jackets, importing hemp fabric for clothing to NZ has an enormous range of possibilities!
Not looking to import hemp clothing to NZ?
What about hemp shoes, hemp blankets, hemp bracelets,? Or even hemp paper, tea bags, hemp cosmetics or building materials!
Henry Ford even once made a car partially from Hemp.
If you’re looking to switch to organic and sustainable products, it's worth considering if Hemp has a place in your product range.
Sustainable fashion is serious business!
Us Kiwi’s are jumping on the ethical and organic fashion trends; with a sharp rise in recycling and renting boutiques, op-shopping, researching brands, scepticism about ‘green-washing’ and a growing recognition of local designers and brands. It’s one reason why developing a brand consumers can trust is a key, long-term strategy!
At Epic Sourcing we think a lot about how we can contribute to making fashion more sustainable. While there is still a long way to go, pushing demand for organic clothing is one way to improve the systems that create them, with the belief that further demand promotes more innovation! So, If you’re in a position where you can invest in the future of hemp clothing in New Zealand, we think you should; for the sake of you, your business and your planet.
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