Is Hemp a More Environmentally Friendly Fabric than Cotton?

Hemp is one of the most environmentally friendly fibers in the world, and it's three to eight times stronger than cotton, depending on how it's processed. It's also one of the fastest-growing crops, reaching maturity in just four months and naturally resistant to pests and toxins. Hemp production has a smaller overall ecological footprint than cotton production, according to the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Up to 500 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of hemp, of which 30 percent is suitable for fiber production.

Hemp is used to make excellent clothing and shoes, as well as industrial textiles, paper, bioplastics, insulators, biofuels, strong cords and cables. It maintains its strength when wet, unlike cotton. However, hemp is still more expensive to grow, harvest and produce than conventional cotton. Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental and social impacts of their closet, so hemp may have a bright future.

Hemp can also be blended with other natural fibers to create fabrics with the durability of hemp and the softness of cotton or bamboo. Cotton and hemp are both natural materials manufactured from renewable resources - the cotton plant and hemp respectively. Hemp has many useful properties such as being highly absorbent, lightweight, resistant, antibacterial and breathable. It also maintains soil fertility and requires very little water to grow with almost no pesticides or fertilizers.

The fashion industry uses cotton on a massive scale to make stylish clothes and accessories much more than hemp. However, some historians think that when Eli Whitney invented the cotton ginder in 1793, hemp could not compete economically with cotton. Hemp has a similar feel to cotton (although the finish is a bit rougher, something like canvas). Unfortunately, the widespread prohibition of cannabis made industrial hemp unpopular and wiped out the hemp textile industry.

It is known all over the world that during the 16th to 18th centuries hemp and flax dominated fiber crops in Asia, Europe and North America. Buying and wearing hemp clothing is one of the best ways to create a wardrobe with a low environmental footprint. Hemp isn't as popular as cotton but it's an excellent alternative fiber for those looking for natural and sustainable garments with a low environmental impact. While hemp comes from the same plant as marijuana, its processing ensures that THC potency level remains below 0.3 percent.

Allyson Ribb
Allyson Ribb

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