We are big advocates of hemp and hemp fabric at Bagmaya. Not because it’s a trendy, up-and-coming fabric, but because it’s the most environmentally friendly material. Hemp fibre has been around since ancient times, but due to its association with marijuana, it has been treated a bit unfairly for the last few decades. Now that sustainable fashion is here, hemp fabric has started to rise from its ashes. But what exactly is hemp fabric? Why is there such a big excitement around it, and what makes it the most eco-friendly choice of material? Stay with us as we answer all these questions. This is your ultimate guide to hemp fibre!
What is hemp fabric?
Hemp, also known as industrial hemp, comes from the stems of the infamous plant Cannabis Sativa. Most of us know it as marijuana, or more simply weed. But as opposed to its naughty sister, industrial hemp contains only a small amount of THC, which is the psychoactive component of cannabis.
Female Cannabis Sativa plants are used both for recreational purposes and textile, however, there is a big difference between the plants used for producing marijuana and hemp fabric. Even though hemp fibre has suffered from its association with marijuana, growers specifically breed Cannabis Sativa to be very low in THC with stronger and better fibres when it comes to textile purposes. Thanks to these strong fibres, hemp fabric is very durable and can last for decades.
We know hemp as ‘the up and coming fabric’ but in reality, hemp fabric has been around for thousands of years. It has been most commonly used in ropes and sails thanks to its durability and strength. You can also see it being used in ancient Egyptian tombs, wrapped around mummies, again proving its long-lasting nature.
When processed into fabric, hemp has a similar look and feel to linen with a hint of canvas. Since it’s not as soft as cotton or bamboo, manufacturers sometimes blend it with other natural fibres to give it a softer texture.
How is hemp fabric produced?
The stalk of Cannabis Sativa or, from now on, hemp plant, has two layers. The outer layer is used to produce hemp fabric, whereas the woody inner layer is used for building materials, animal bedding and fuel. Once the long strands of fibre are removed from the stalk, they are spun together to produce yarn or rope. The resulting yarn is then woven into hemp fabric for use in a variety of products, such as clothing and home textiles.
Hemp fabric is particularly suitable for sustainable clothing and backpacks, thanks to its resistance to wear and tear.
Where does hemp fabric come from?
Historically, hemp has been produced all around the world. But due to the bans on the hemp plant, production of hemp has been reduced significantly, especially in the US. Nowadays, China is the biggest producer of hemp, with about 70 percent of it coming from there. However, ethical companies are still a bit suspicious about China’s hemp production due to labour conditions and regulations. That’s not to say that there aren’t any sustainable and ethical hemp factories in China! France is the second-largest producer of hemp, with over 30 countries around the world producing industrial hemp. Other countries include Austria, United Kingdom, Chile and the US.
What are the advantages of hemp fabric?
1- Hemp is durable
Hemp fabric can last for ages, as in the case of Egyptian mummies. If well-taken care of, your hemp garments and bags can last for 20 to 30 years, which is a dream for eco-conscious consumers. Moreover, hemp will get softer over time with each wash. No, fibres won’t degrade! It’s very unlikely to shrink or pill, making it the perfect choice for clothes, blankets and accessories.
2- Hemp is extremely lightweight and breathable
Hemp fibre is extremely light, making it highly breathable. Its thermodynamic nature keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter, perfect for any weather! It also means that hemp’s lightweight and durable nature makes it a good choice for activewear and travel backpacks.
3- Hemp fabric is naturally UV resistant
Hemp fibres are naturally high in ultraviolet protection factor, making hemp ideal for your summer wardrobe. It’s a natural UPF 50+ fabric, protecting you from UV rays.
4- Hemp is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-allergen
Hemp is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal with high resistance to mould, fungi and microbes. With its anti-odour properties, you can keep your clothes fresh for longer, reducing your water usage. You can also travel with your hemp backpack for months under various weather conditions, without having to worry about its freshness or hygiene. It’s also naturally hypoallergenic, perfectly suitable for sensitive skin.
5- Hemp fabric retains its shape
Thanks to hemp fibres strong structure, hemp fabric doesn’t shrink or lose its shape. You may have realised that your high-quality cotton t-shirts start to lose their shape after a few washes in the washing machine. You won’t experience that with hemp t-shirts! As opposed to other natural fibres, such as cotton, hemp can keep its shape after many washes. So if you want to have long-lasting t-shirts, opt for hemp ones instead of cotton.
Is hemp really better than cotton?
Compared to cotton, hemp fabric is lighter, less absorbing, more durable and faster drying. That’s why hemp is particularly popular for towels. Plus, it’s UV protective. Hemp fabric is said to be three times stronger than cotton, meaning you can use your hemp garments for 20 more years than the cotton counterparts.
As a plant, hemp requires significantly less water and land than cotton to grow. As opposed to 10,000 litres of water required to produce 1 kg of cotton, you only need about 300-800 litres for 1 kg of hemp. So hemp is not only more sustainable in terms of the longevity of the clothes, but also more sustainable and environmentally friendly in terms of its production. Check out our hemp versus cotton piece to read more on this.
We feel responsible to mention that producing hemp may require more nitrogen than growing cotton, but considering all other environmentally-friendly features of the hemp plant, it still outweighs cotton for us.
Hemp’s impact on the planet: what makes hemp fabric the most sustainable option?
If we look at the growing process of hemp, we can see that it’s naturally environmentally friendly and sustainable. It requires very low levels of water and other resources to grow, making it very easy to cultivate. No wonder why our ancestors used hemp for thousands of years! Now let’s look at its sustainability in more detail.
1- Hemp doesn’t require masses of land or water to grow
According to Hemp Basics, 1 acre of hemp plants can give what 2 to 3 acres of cotton can produce. It also grows very quickly, taking only 120 days to be ready for harvest. It can also use the same land every couple of years, reducing the need for more cultivating land. Not only that, but it also requires very low amounts of water, as mentioned above.
2- Hemp is a carbon-negative raw material
The hemp plant absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces, making it a ‘self-offsetting crop’. The amount of carbon dioxide hemp plants absorb is said to be more than forests, making hemp farms the ideal choice for ‘carbon sink’.
3- Hemp production doesn’t require toxic pesticides or herbicides
There’s a reason why the hemp plant is also known as weed. It’s a high-yielding plant that basically eliminates all other competing plants, therefore doesn’t require any chemical herbicides. Most of the time, the hemp plant also doesn’t require any pesticides, as it’s naturally resistant to pests and predators. Since it doesn’t require the use of harmful chemicals, industrial hemp farms are highly attractive to bees, birds and animals. Seriously, what’s not to love about this plant?!
4- Gives nutrients back to the soil
The hemp plant regenerates soil by returning most of the nutrients it takes. Hemp also helps to clean the soil, which makes it a valuable plant for crop rotation. Furthermore, hemp plants can easily grow in contaminated land without any adverse effects and absorb the toxins from the soil. That’s why hemp was planted around Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster in 1986. What a plant!
5- Multi-purpose and biodegradable
Hemp and hemp fabric are completely biodegradable, which is music to our ears! And even better, every part of the hemp plant can be used. While the outer layer can be processed into hemp fabric, the inner woody layer can be used for building purposes, fuel and animal bedding. And wait for it… hemp can also be turned into a plastic substitute (yes, biodegradable plastic!) when heated and properly treated.
A great example of hemp’s multi-purpose nature is perhaps the hemp car Henry Ford built in 1941. Yes, you’ve heard it right. Henry Ford built a perfectly green car made from hemp, which was also able to run on hemp oil! That was 70 years ago – imagine what we can do now with all the technology we have. With a significant amount of car manufacturers incorporating hemp into their makes, the future looks hemp-tastic!
What are the disadvantages of hemp fabric?
Hemp fabric is pretty close to being perfect, but like everything else, it has some disadvantages too.
1- It’s not silky-smooth
If you’re looking for silky-smooth bedsheets and t-shirts, then you may think that hemp is not for you. With a relatively low thread count, hemp fabric is not as soft as cotton. That said, it’s still comfortable and easy on the skin. It may just feel a bit tougher.
2- Hemp fabric can be expensive
Most of the time hemp production is cheaper than cotton, but the cost of hemp fabric can be high due to market factors. For example, cotton is widely available around the world as opposed to the limited production of hemp. The psychoactive qualities of the hemp plant led to tough legislation on hemp production, which eventually decreased the amount of hemp produced. So even though hemp production is simpler and easier, it’s still more expensive than cotton.
Hemp fabric’s recent popularity and novelty also don’t help with the price, as brands charge higher prices for hemp fabric and its products. But as regulations ease and hemp fabric becomes more available, we believe that the price will eventually match cotton.
Conclusion: hemp’s future
Hemp farmers and hemp fabric suffered from hemp’s association with marijuana and strict regulations over the last few decades. But now that the fashion industry is getting more and more sustainable each day, hemp’s ecological benefits started to be seen more widely. At Bagmaya, we use environmentally friendly hemp for our sustainable bags and can’t wait to see more hemp products to combine with them. If you’re as excited as us for hemp’s future, share this post to spread the word!