Among all the fiber choices available today, hemp wins on sustainability by a mile!
As a clothing maker who works exclusively with hemp, I was originally drawn to the fiber because of its incredible sustainability. Compared to cotton, linen, and other natural fibers, hemp is far less well known and appreciated by clothing buyers. Even though humans have been growing hemp for thousands of years and making clothes from this versatile fiber, it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves. In the US, that’s in part because for a long time hemp was outlawed along with its cousin, marijuana. It was only in 2017 that hemp was differentiated from pot and legalized nationwide. As a result, here in the US consumers are just now beginning to appreciate all the virtues hemp brings to the table.
In a recent Forbes article, Jane Fonda, an advocate for hemp, described a recent revelation. “I fell in love with some pieces of clothing and then found out they were made of hemp and I was like: ‘Hemp? I thought it would be like a potato sack! But they weren’t. They were lovely and soft, and flexible and pliable.” Jane is not alone in discovering that hemp clothing can be be both incredibly comfortable and stylish as well. Consumers today are discovering that their assumptions about the stylishness of hemp may be seriously outdated. But more importantly, in this era of widespread pollution, climate change, and resource scarcity, hemp emerges as the clear winner when it comes to choosing sustainable fashions.
By the way, I was inspired to write this post after coming across the work of Planet Green, an Indian organization committed to spreading the word about hemp's many environmental and health benefits. A startup born in response to the covid pandemic, Planet Green aims to provide livelihoods to the many rural women, some of whom have returned home from India’s cities in reaction to soaring infection rates. In remarkably little time Planet Green has set up artisan-based production of hemp clothing, accessories, and even hemp face masks. Focused around low-tech, cottage industry methods, the organization is providing income to rural women whose husbands have been thrown out of work due to covid. Like Sympatico, Green Planet recognizes the enormous potential hemp has in creating sustainable goods. Goods that not only benefit the Earth but consumers everywhere as well.
Rose Gerstner is the founder of Sympatico Clothing in Oregon. She regularly blogs about sustainable fashion and the advantages hemp has to offer.
Here are 8 compelling reasons to switch to hemp as the cornerstone of as truly sustainable wardrobe:
1. Hemp clothing is ultra durable
There’s a reason hemp was traditionally used to make to rope and sails for ships: the fiber is incredibly strong, actually gaining strength when wet. This durability means hemp clothes last longer. Much longer. Because you’ll replace your hemp apparel far less often, its purchase is a sustainability no-brainer. And when it is finally worn out, hemp clothing readily biodegrades back into the Earth. Unlike petrochemical fibers such as nylon and polyester that produce alarming amounts of microplastic pollution and persist virtually forever, hemp helps restore the soil as it breaks down entirely.
2. Hemp clothing is antimicrobial
Because of its ability to neutralize the bacteria on our skin that are responsible for body odors, hemp can be worn longer between launderings. This quality makes hemp clothing a great choice in hot and humid climates.
3. Hemp clothing both insulates and cools
Thanks to its cellulosic fiber structure, when layered hemp clothing traps air to help keep you snug. Conversely, in warmer weather when worn unlayered, hemp is wonderfully cool, allowing body heat and perspiration to dissipate.
4. Hemp clothing is easy to care for
Hemp is an unfussy fabric that doesn’t require gentle handling or special cleaning regimens. It holds up beautifully to machine washing and drying, and depending on the specific fabric, may require little or no ironing.
5. Hemp thrives on just a little love
Unlike conventional cotton that requires large amounts of water, herbicides, and pesticides, hemp gets along without toxic chemicals. Cotton alone accounts for about 16% of all the pesticide used worldwide. Hemp is far less thirsty using a fraction of the water needed by cotton. And hemp doesn’t need the copious amounts of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides applied to cotton crops. Hemp is considered a phyto-remediative, a plant that removes toxins from the soil as well as sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide. Thanks to hemp’s robust root structure, it also helps aerate soil, an important trait in a crop that is unfussy about the soil it grows in.
6. Nearly every part of the hemp plant is useful
Depending on the strain, hemp is grown for a myriad of purposes ranging from building materials and industrial fibers to clothing, paints and inks, nutritional oils, and therapeutic medicines. The biomass of hemp that's not converted into these products are used in everything from animal feeds to sound deadening building panels.
7. Hemp helps remediate global warming and greenhouse gases
The European Industrial Hemp Association has determined one hectare of industrial hemp can sequester up 15 tons of carbon dioxide. Functioning as a carbon store, it sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide, helping to reverse greenhouse gases. Putting the number into perspective, producing one ton of steel produces 1.46 tons of carbon dioxide. A single hectare of hemp can sequester the carbon dioxide emitted from the manufacturing of 10 tons of steel.
8. Today’s hemp clothing is a far cry from the apparel worn by American settlers
The rough-spun shirts and breeches worn by the pioneers were a far cry from today’s woven and knit hemp apparel. As hemp’s popularity is being restored, we’re seeing more and more exciting fashion fabrics reach the market. There are also innovative developments in blending hemp with other sustainable fibers. Sympatico’s hemp and Tencel blend fabrics are a case in point. The blend marries the best aspects of both fibers, each of which is sustainably grown and harvested. In combination, the two fibers collaborate beautifully in the Sympatico collection of women’s tops, skirts, and pants.
So there you have it. Eight compelling reasons to switch to hemp clothing. Do it for your comfort. Do it for the Earth. I think you’ll be glad you made the switch.