Hemp is one of the most environmentally friendly fibers in the world. It's a great material to create comfortable textiles and beautiful fashion. It has amazing qualities but also a few drawbacks.
Using hemp for fashion provides eco-friendly clothes that are natural, soft, breathable, lightweight, and durable. Unfortunately, hemp fabric can wrinkle easily. It's also expensive to produce, difficult to dye, and overshadowed by cotton.
Hemp is still an excellent choice to make high-quality and fashionable garments that also protect the environment. It's one of the oldest textile fibers in the world, already used 10,000 years ago to make clothing.
The global textile and apparel industry is the second-largest polluter globally. It causes a catastrophic impact on climate change and produces huge amounts of greenhouse gases, pollution, and wastes.
Hemp is bound to have a bright future in the fashion industry as a formidable material to produce environmentally friendly apparel, despite some disadvantages.
Here are the pros and cons of hemp for fashion.
Hemp advantages for clothing
Hemp is a natural and renewable resource. Hemp plants grow quicker and easier than most trees in temperate climates and are harvested annually.
Hemp has a very high yield. One acre of hemp can produce two to three times more fiber than an acre of cotton.
Hemp requires little water to grow, and almost no pesticides or fertilizers. Textiles made from hemp fibers are natural, bio-based, and biodegradable.
Hemp production has a much lower impact than cotton production, as reported by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The production of one kilogram of hemp requires up to 500 liters of water (130 gallons), of which 30 percent is suitable for fiber production.
On the other hand, it takes up to 20,000 liters of water (5,300 gallons) to produce one kilogram of cotton, equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Hemp has an overall low impact on global warming, soil eutrophication, and water scarcity. This makes it one of the most environmentally friendly fibers in the world.
Read up my article on hemp biodegradability to learn more about the ecological impact of hemp fibers.
Hemp fibers also have amazing qualities for clothes. They are stronger, longer, more absorbent, and more durable than cotton fibers. Hemp is very versatile, soft, breathable, lightweight, resistant, and anti-bacterial.
Hemp doesn't benefit from the same popularity as cotton but makes a great alternative fiber. It has many advantages for apparel and footwear.
Check out my article on hemp vs cotton for an exhaustive comparison between these two popular textile fibers.
Hemp fabric disadvantages for fashion
Hemp remains expensive due to low availability and costly production. Fashion products made from hemp fabrics are difficult to find because industrial hemp farming is a very small industry.
60,657 tons of hemp fibers were produced globally in 2018, according to the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The demand for hemp fibers is extremely low compared to cotton (30,3 million tons produced annually).
Read up my article on the top 5 reasons why organic hemp clothing is so expensive to learn more about hemp production.
Hemp fabrics also wrinkle easily. A major drawback of hemp is its low elasticity. That's why it's often blended with other materials. Hemp is lightweight and resistant but requires chemical treatments to remain elastic.
Hemp is difficult to dye. The natural color of hemp is cream, light yellow. It can be bleached and dyed with environmentally friendly methods. But hemp fibers are hard to dye so their colors aren't rich.
Hemp products have a bad reputation. the distinction between hemp and marijuana isn't clear to most people. The wide prohibition of cannabis made industrial hemp unpopular, even if the hemp plant is a very distinct variety of the cannabis plant and contains almost no delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Organic hemp is overshadowed by cotton. It's a great substitute for cotton and is much more environmentally friendly but was quickly abandoned in the past and replaced by cotton. People buy more cotton clothing because it's cheap and it's what they know the most.
Overall, hemp is a natural material made from a renewable resource, the hemp plant. Many fashion brands and designers use hemp to design and produce comfortable apparel and footwear worldwide.
Sustainable materials are important in the fashion world to protect the environment. Fashion is a growing industry and sustainability is necessary to produce durable textiles in large quantities without damaging the planet.
To make hemp more popular in the fashion market, it has to gain its reputation back. Hemp has many useful properties for clothing, especially in hot climates.
Consumers must become more mindful of the environmental and social impacts of their wardrobe. And the textile industry must take massive action to reduce waste, pollution, and carbon emissions.
Hemp fiber availability is very low. And fashion made of hemp stays expensive. Until we can convince more people to buy hemp clothing, the price of hemp clothes will remain high.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.