Hemp, often referred to as the ‘World’s Most Useful Plant,’ has been around for centuries, cultivated on almost every single continent. In fact, according to the Columbia History of the World, the weaving of hemp fiber started over 10,000 years ago! But is hemp fabric really as sustainable as they say it is? Let’s explore.
What makes this plant so special?
Mainly it has to do with the fact that hemp is strong, durable, easy to grow, and that it grows fast — like super fast. On an annual basis, 1 acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as 2 to 3 acres of cotton, which is much stronger and softer than cotton. 1
Plus, growing hemp requires very little water (50% less water than cotton) and no herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. Not to mention that “the cultivation of hemp improves soil health by replenishing vital nutrients and preventing erosion.” 2
Added bonus? Hemp fabric is naturally antibacterial with odor fighting properties, more insulative than cotton fiber, and contains high levels of UV protection.
So, how is this “bast fiber,” i.e. fiber obtained from the inner bark of the plant, processed?
A few different ways:
1. Dew/Field Retting: Dew retting consists of laying the hemp stalks out in the field for a few weeks and simply letting them “rot,” so to speak (aka “microbial decay” due to exposure to dew, sun, and fungi). This helps to “remove the gummy (pectinous) substances which glue the bast fibres together.” (SFF)
2. Mechanical Retting: According to Organic Clothing Blogs, “this process uses a machine at the field to mechanically separate the fiber from the hurd. Machinery for this process is currently being designed and tested by various companies throughout the world.”
3. Chemical Retting: This process is similar to the chemical process used to break down bamboo pulp into fiber. While this is a cheaper way of breaking down the fiber the end product tends to be poorer in quality than dew or mechanical retting.
Overall, I believe hemp is a great alternative to some of the other textiles on the market today!
I’ll be sharing some of my favorite hemp brands soon.
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