Regenerative Textile feature: Hemp

Disclaimer:
By all means, we at ukA are not living in perfection but we strive to do our best to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
As we honor these values,  we are surely on the right path to a better future that co-exists with nature.
We ask that you read with an open-mind and open-heart as this article may be triggering.
Take what you like and leave the rest. We hope you enjoy it!

It’s been eye-opening to research on the common plant-based textiles in our consumer market today. Industrial hemp has been increasingly praised for its durability, versatility, and eco-friendly qualities. In this article, we’ll be looking closely into why hemp has been in the spotlight.

We’ll give a brief rundown on industrial hemp and the many uses of this remarkable material. You’ll read comparisons of the pros and cons of other natural materials that are commonly used in the fashion industry. Finally, you’ll gain an understanding of why ukA chooses hemp and organic cotton for the in-house collection, Live with Nature

When we can empower ourselves with this sort of information, we can make rational decisions on how to use our money. Our money can go towards supporting brands and artists who are making positive impacts in our society. It’s also exciting to see all of the new tech and innovation that’s been happening in the consumer world. 

In other words, by voting with our money, we can influence mass-manufacturers to follow suit in becoming more sustainable. This is what the planet needs for longevity and for our race to be less harmful to the environment. Enterprises will continue to catch on that these major changes in the industry aren’t a trend. Many consumers value companies that have ethical workplaces, clean energy, quality products, and doing less harm to our environment. This is how we, as citizens of this planet, can contribute to a greener future.

Via Markus Spiske on unsplash.com

 

What’s hemp?

Via Matteo Paganelli on unsplash.com

Industrial hemp (cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa) is a herbaceous species that “can be grown to maximize the fibers in the stalk of the plant or to maximize seed production” (1). More than 70% of the available industrial hemp is being grown in China. Hemp has been found on every continent, dating back as early as 8000 BCE.  They are one of the most versatile plants in the world. Depending on the product being produced, a different part of the plant is required.

Hemp can be processed into many useful things:

  • twine, rope
  • burlap, canvas
  • hemp hearts, hemp milk, hemp seed oil, medicinal oil
  • paper
  • varnish
  • form of concrete
  • bio-plastic
  • ethanol fuel
  • animal bedding, insulation
  • and much more!

Image: Natrij – Public Domain

     *Image above is a hemp stem: The outer material is the bast fibers. The hurd is inner core is made up of short fibers. Bast fiber is commonly used for cordage and textiles. Hurd is commonly used to make paper, organic compost, animal bedding, and fiberboard. The seeds and leaves are used for mostly edible and medicinal purposes. Depending on how well the crops are taken care of, the most bast fiber hurt, and seeds it will contain. In this article, we will focus on how industrial hemp is a fantastic fiber for textiles. For curious folks who want to learn more in-depth on how hemp fiber is produced,  Hemp Gazette and Hemp for Humanity are great resources.

 

What makes hemp a superior and sustainable textile?

Compared to other common plant-based fibers in the market such as linen, conventional cotton, bamboo, and rayon, industrial hemp is known as the lowest environmental impacting fiber to produce. Why? For several reasons!

First – hardy hemp requires less water to grow and process into the fiber.

“Cotton needs around 10,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of fiber; which is almost equivalent to a single T-shirt or pair of jeans, On average, something less than 2,700 liters of water is consumed by a human being in 3 years. Hemp needs around 2,300 liters of water for the production of 1kg fibers” (2).

Second – No need for fertilizer, chemical treatment, or pesticides for industrial hemp. Though this doesn’t mean that all industrial hemp farmers are organic. The reason why industrial hemp doesn’t require fertilizer is that it naturally suppresses weeds from its luscious canopy that protects the soil.  Hemp also naturally deters pests away so there’s no need for pesticides. It naturally deters insects, mites, fungi, and bacteria. Without these environmentally detrimental chemicals, farmers are safe from harm and waterways to stay clean. Alongside this point, something that really stood out is this – Hemp not enriches and replenishes the soil with nitrogen and oxygen but also can absorb contaminants and toxins from the soil from the hardy taproot and root system. This is called phytoremediation.

“Scientists estimate that for every ton of hemp grown, 1.63 tons of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. This is more than trees or other plants of a similar size” (3).

Third – Efficient growing and harvest season.  Depending on what part of the world the hemp farm is, on average, it can take as little as 60-90 days to harvest for production. Whereas with cotton, it takes as long as 160 days for harvest-ready crops. This means that there can be up to 2-3 harvests in a single season. For many reasons, industrial hemp is a win-win crop that brings in financial stability but also great for the environment and consumers.

Though it may cost more to purchase a hemp product compared to a garment made of synthetic materials or fast-fashion, in retrospect, it is far more economical to choose hemp over any other plant-based fibers.

Here are some reasons why hemp products are money worth spent:

  • Naturally antibacterial and resistant to mold & mildew:  ideal for humid climates!
  • Durable fibers: Both hemp and linen are strong fibers – though most sources say hemp is stronger (by up to 8 times) than linen (even though the real winner is spider silk), but this point becomes moot due to the variables involved in spinning the fiber into yarn and then weaving into fabric.   The lifespan of hemp is the longest of all the natural fibers. (4).
  • Retains shape: blends greatly with cotton for this reason because cotton loses its shape easily.
  • Hemp doesn’t wear out, it wears in: becomes softer with wear and wash.
  • Retains color better than cotton because of its porous and absorbent quality.
  • Breathable & keeps you warm: can be worn all year long.
  • UV blocking: All fabrics are sun protective, especially darker tones.

Via Rick Proctor on unsplash.com

 

How does it compare with other plant-based fibers?

Each raw material has its own individualized quality that has its place in the world. There are certain factors that still make industrial hemp much more sustainable even compared to the many certified organic, fair-trade, and eco-friendly natural fibers in the market. Thanks to all the people who have been experimenting with hemp, the diverse options of products are in our market today.

Let’s talk about one of the most biodegradable fabrics that have been used for thousands of years – linen.

Linen is derived from flax plants. Similar to hemp, it requires very little energy or water to thrive. Every part of the plant can be used for products like flax seeds, flaxseed oil, apparel, twine, thread, and fishnets. On top of all that, linen has strong durability for up to 20 years. The more it’s been used and washed, the softer it gets. But like cotton, consumers may want to investigate whether any toxic chemicals were used for the coloring process because linen is not an easily penetrable fiber for dyes.

Another common plant-based fiber is rayon.

It is man-made cellulose that is produced from softwood trees. “The fabric for rayon clothes made in China likely comes from Indonesia, where old-growth rainforests are being destroyed to make way for bamboo, planted specifically for textile manufacturing” (5). How else would fast-fashion industries be able to pump out insane amounts of rayon for inexpensive costs? Indonesia has the largest expanse of rainforest in Asia – home to indigenous tribes and many animal species that only reside in Indonesia (Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, rhinoceros, and orangutans, all of which are endangered species). By connecting the dots, it rings the alarm that our lifestyles are a detriment to faraway ecosystems that need our protection rather than harm. Ignorance is not bliss.

Via Maksim Shutov on unsplash.com

Cotton has an infamous history and continues its legacy today.

Though it may be a biodegradable fabric and useful for many products, what sets cotton apart from industrial hemp is the amount of water it requires to thrive and how much land it needs for mass-manufacturing use.

 

What’s wrong with cotton?

Via Trisha Downing on unsplash.com

One of the most environmentally-unsound crops that is detrimental to our planet.

  • There are numerous reasons that make cotton production unethical. A number of harmful chemicals are required in order for cotton to thrive. These chemicals are not only harmful to the environment but also to the workers. “99% of all cotton is treated with 25% of the world’s insecticides” (6). There are many hazardous chemicals that can be traced on our clothes: petroleum scours, heavy metals, flame retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde. On the other hand, hemp can be grown chemical-free!
  • Cotton is a very thirsty crop. With our planet experiencing a shortage of water throughout the year, it is crucial for us to contemplate whether this is a sustainable raw material to be spending our money on. Is watering cotton more important than feeding water to our neighboring countries that require safe drinking water? All-natural things in our world require water but in excess, it becomes questionable.

“[It takes] between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans and up to 3,000 to make a T-shirt” (7).

Via Anton Ivanchenko on unsplash.com

  • In some regions, hemp has grown more than twice in a single growing season. Above all, it’s fantastic for both growers and manufacturers.
  • Fashion and paper industries often use toxic chemical dyes and bleach for coloring purposes. Whereas with hemp, in order to make the material white, hydrogen peroxide is sometimes used. There are many reasons why the consumer market should consider hemp and linen to be the prevalent fiber.

It is important to mention that there are ethical supply chains that source organic, sustainable cotton. In the last few years, there has been a huge movement amongst big-box manufacturers to “bring more transparency to cotton supply chains by enabling businesses to verify the origins and ethics of the raw materials, fabrics, and garments they purchase” (8).

There are definitely great things happening in the cotton industry but still does not negate the fact that it does require insane amounts of water. Needless to say, organic cotton doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a thirsty crop. This is where educating ourselves on where we purchase from is important. Some cotton fields are located in areas that naturally has a lot of rainfall. Definitely look into the shop website to dig into their transparency.

To read more in-depth on this topic, Better Cotton Initiative and CottonUP are some great resources.

 

Why does ukA choose organic cotton/hemp?

      ukA Live with Nature focuses on using GOTS certified organic cotton that is blended with hemp. The soft elasticity of cotton combined with the retaining elasticity and color absorption of hemp makes the garments we carry desirable for longevity.  (–GOTS article coming soon–)
    Our original UKA collection (asymmetrical T-shirt, asymmetrical long sleeve, wide-leg wrap pants), are GOTS certified cotton blended with hemp. The material is as soft as cotton and get softer with wear and wash.

We also carry some coarse but softening hemp garments, like MANU’s collections, which is a more common texture in the industry. Check out the hemp products we have available now.

 

Why it’s vital for consumers to wake up to the impact that fashion has on the environment.

It’s crucial for people to wake up to the detriment of the fashion industry. In recent years, the sustainable fashion scene has been booming! Great things are coming out of the fashion movement. 

We also need to be aware of what companies are still doing and why consumers need to be curious. In the fashion industry, there are many natural textiles that haven’t been ethically sourced. Even if items are advertised as natural fibers, there are things that must be exposed to the masses.

Due to unethical productions, forests are being deforested and animals are being abused. In order to break down these natural resources, harsh chemicals are being used. In recent months, a major issue that has gotten the spotlight is the unfair compensation and treatment of workers.

By becoming aware of these things in the fashion industry, we are able to shop according to what companies and designers are ethical. We can make better decisions to purchase from our research. The little things we do daily can cause a ripple effect in our community. 

Via David Kiriakidis on unsplash.com

 

To learn more about hemp, here are some fantastic resources:
Hemp for Humanity, Hempstead, National Hemp Association, Vote Hemp, to name a few.

 

Resources:

  1. https://indohemp.com/blog/hemp-vs-cotton/
  2. https://livepurepower.com/benefits-of-hemp-for-regeneratie-agriculture/
  3. https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/should-i-choose-a-hemp-or-linen-fabric/
  4. https://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-fashion/do-you-know-which-fabrics-are-most-sustainable.html
  5. http://dresswelldogood.com/2015/09/24/what-fabrics-do-we-wear/
  6. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fabrics-environment-fast-fashion-eco-friendly-pollution-waste-polyester-cotton-fur-recycle-a8963921.html
  7. https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-cotton/