Econosa is reader-supported. When you buy through some links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

What Is Hemp Fabric and is it Sustainable?

The history of hemp fabric and the hemp plant is fascinating and despite its controversial nature, hemp is almost a super plant.

Many things can be derived from the hemp plant, it is one of the most sustainable crops for fabrics and is extremely good at sequestering CO2.

These are just a couple of benefits of using hemp fabric. Read on to find out more about hemp fabrics, the benefits, pitfalls, and more.

What is Hemp Fabric?

What is Hemp Fabric?

Hemp fabric is a type of textile that is made using hemp fibers.

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species, and the hemp plant can be used to produce many different products.

Hemp fabric is known for being durable and sturdy, and it is often used in the production of clothing, bags, and other items.

Hemp fabric is also environmentally friendly, as it requires little water to grow and does not contain any harmful chemicals.

Additionally, hemp fabric is biodegradable, meaning that it can be easily decomposed.

How is Hemp Fabric Made?

Hemp fabric is made from the fibers of the cannabis plant.

The fibers are usually harvested from the stem of the plant.

To make hemp fabric, the fibers are first cleaned and then spun into yarn. The yarn is then woven or knitted into fabric.

Hemp fabric is also used for up to 3,000 different products, including building materials, food, and fuel.

How is hemp made?

Is Hemp Fabric Sustainable?

There are several things to consider when deciding how sustainable a fabric is including its carbon footprint in farming, water, high fiber yield, co2 capture, how fast it grows, how often land can be used.

Carbon Footprint

Hemp has a small carbon footprint when it comes to farming. It is a water-efficient crop, able to be grown in most climates and soil types.

Hemp grows quickly, yielding between 10-20% more hemp fiber than other similar crops.

Hemp is a “self-offsetting crop” that actually absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere than forests, which makes industrial hemp farms an ideal carbon sink.

Hemp can hold up to 22 tons of CO2 per hectare, and given that you can grow 2 crops per year, hemp actually one of the fastest CO2-to-biomass conversion tools available.

Hempnz.co.nz
Hemp carbon footprint

Water

When it comes to water use, hemp uses about 10% of the water required to grow cotton making it a very efficient crop.

In fact for choosing hemp you not only save on carbon emissions but for every 1kg of hemp per 1kg of cotton produced, you save 2kg CO2, 2.2m2 of land that can be used for further growth, and 5000 liters of irrigated water.

hemp-copenhagen.com

That is significant.

How fast Does hemp grow?

Hemp grows quickly, often reaching maturity within 60 to 90 days. Compare that to cotton, which takes around 160 days to reach maturity, therefore has the potential to produce more crops in a shorter period, making it an efficient and sustainable crop choice.

Hemp lant growth - days

In fact, hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet, period.

What are the Advantages of Hemp Fabric?

• Hemp is a sturdy and durable fabric that is up to 4 times stronger than cotton

• Hemp is a very fast growing crop, taking only 3-4 months to reach maturity and can be recycled

• Hemp crops grow much faster than cotton crops, making them a more sustainable choice for clothing.

• Organic hemp fabric is also biodegradable, meaning it will decompose in landfills rather than harming the environment.

• Hemp does not require pesticides or fertilizers to grow, making it a more eco-friendly option than cotton.

• Organic Hemp fabric can be extremely absorbent and is a popular material for cloths and tea towels for this reason

Hemp advantages - absorbant cloths

• Hemp plants are good for soil health and help restore nutrients in the soil rather than taking them.

• Hemp fabric is resistant to UV rays due to its high thread count.

• Hemp fabric has anti-microbial properties, which means it fights against microbes and odor. This means your clothes don’t have to be washed as often.

• Hemp softens over time – when you wash hemp it will soften.

• Hemp can be combined with other materials to make up for some disadvantages. An example is being combined with cotton or silk, to make the hemp feel softer and more smooth.

What are the Disadvantages of Hemp Fabric?

• The disadvantages of hemp fabric are that it is not as soft as cotton and it tends to be more expensive.

• Hemp fabric is also less absorbent than cotton, which means that it can be less comfortable to wear in warm weather

• Hemp fabric can wrinkle more easily than some other materials.

What is the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana are not 2 different species of plant, which is a very common misconception.

In fact, their definition comes from the difference in their THC content, with marijuana containing higher levels of THC than hemp.

0.3 percent is where the lines are drawn and believe it or not it is an arbitrary line.

Anything containing over 0.3% THC content is considered cannabis, and anything under 0.3% is considered hemp.

Healthline.com

It is also obvious that hemp also has a different purpose than marijuana, as it is used for industrial purposes such as making paper and clothing while marijuana, on the other hand, is mostly used for recreational or medicinal purposes.

THC is what gives marijuana its psychoactive effects, and hemp does not contain the required THC to give these effects.

What is the History of Hemp Fabric?

In many ways it’s a little ironic hemp is now only starting to gain momentum as a fabric due to the climate crises. The first hemp fabric was created almost 50,000 years ago. The first documented use of hemp archaeologically dates back to the Neolithic Age in China, with hemp fiber imprints found on Yangshao culture pottery dating from the 5th millennium BC.

While the east were early adopters of hemp and its benefits, it did not appear in the west till quite late notably when the Spaniards brought hemp to Chile and started growing it in around 1545.

Geroge Washington was a big proponent of bringing hemp to America as he saw it as a crop that would make money. He even noted in his diary he had grown 27 bushels one year.

Hemp was used in the USA regularly up until 1937 when the ‘Marijuana Tax Act’ was introduced. The people believe to be behind the bill were businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family, who surprise surprise were in competing industries (ie Nylon) and sought to destroy the hemp industry.

Wikipedia

Unfortunately for them, the bill was short-lived when WWII started and hemp became an important fabric in the American war effort.

What about Hemp Certifications?

One thing to look out for when purchasing hemp products is the business practices of the company. How and where do they get their hemp from, and is it certified? Organic?

A lot of ‘sustainable’ companies mention their use of ‘organic’ and ‘ethical’ materials, but do they put their money where their mouth is. Do they state where their materials are coming from, and if so, are those producers organic or ethically certified?

One such certification (for USA-grown hemp) is USDA Organic. Now, as hemp has been a controversial material in the USA, there have been some obstacles for companies in trying to get certified which you can read about here.

Things are getting better and what you can be sure of is those who do have their certification, or use certified hemp farms, have gone above and beyond to gain your trust.

Some other certified organic hemp certifications to look out for are: Certified as Organic by the EU, (GOTS) Global Organic Textile Standard, EcoCert Certification, Oeko-Tex Standard 100, OCS Blended – Organic Content Standard.

Keep an eye out for these badges when doing due diligence.

hemp certifications

How Is Hemp Fabric Used?

It’s actually amazing the number of things hemp can be used for. Ranging from food and clothing to building materials and biofuel, it really is a versatile plant.

Hemp fabric, in particular, was commonly used for many things such as rope and sail canvas, in fact, the word ‘canvas‘ derives from the word cannabis.

Hemp can be used as an alternative for or in concrete, insulation, oils & varnishes, plaster, plastics, and wood.

Nowadays, hemp is used for things like shoes, clothing, accessories, dog collars, homewares, blankets, mattresses, bedsheets, and towels.

It is also not uncommon for hemp fiber to be mixed with other fabrics to absorb their properties. For example, hemp fabric can be combined with cotton, silk, and lyocell. Combining hemp with cotton or silk can often make the final fabric softer and smoother.

Where Is Industrial Hemp Produced?

Over 30+ countries around the world produce industrial hemp while China accounts for around 70% and France around 25% of the world’s output.

How Much Does Hemp Fabric Cost?

Unfortunately, hemp fabric prices can often be more than other sustainable textiles such as cotton, but not for logical reasons.

Prices are often driven up by suppliers due to its novelty currently.

Hemp can also be more pricey due to the fact legislation around the world in regards to growing hemp is all over the show.

This drives down the ability to offer a large supply. Along with that other textiles such as cotton, have large production so can offer in bulk which can reduce their prices.

If you are purchasing hemp fabric from China (Alibaba), where most of the world’s hemp is grown, you can purchase hemp for $21 per kilogram or $9.5 per pound at the time of writing.

What Different Types of Hemp Fabric Are There?

There is only one type of hemp fabric, which can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, however, the are several hemp composites or hybrid fabrics that are often created.

For example, hemp can be mixed with silk, cotton, polyester, linen, and Tencel to create composite fabrics.

An example can be found here, where hemp and silk is blended to create various garments.

Usually, these blends are created in order to enhance the fabric, for example, using silk to make the garment softer, but also using hemp to maintain its antibacterial properties and also utilizing its strength for longer-lasting garments.

Hemp Fabrics VS Other Materials

It is probably quite clear now that hemp is a highly sustainable and eco-friendly material, but how does it compare to some of the other eco-friendly materials out there?

Hemp Fabric vs Cotton

Some of the benefits hemp fabrics have over cotton fabric is that hemp plants use far less water to grow than cotton plants, hemp enriches the soil that it is grown on, it does not require any pesticides, it produces twice as much hemp fiber, and is a far stronger material.

Hemp vs Bamboo fabric

As above with cotton, hemp is better for the soil than bamboo and unfortunately bamboo is not a good material to be made into fabric, in fact, there are a number of harmful chemicals used in the processes to turn bamboo into the fabric.

Hemp also has anti-bacterial properties and hemp fabric resists mildew however bamboo does not, and hemp is also a much stronger fabric than bamboo.

Hemp vs Linen

When it comes to comparing hemp and linen, they have a number of similarities as well as differences.

Similarities include that they are both biodegradable, they both have anti-bacterial properties, both fabrics improve after washing, both fabrics are very breathable and both are great for insulation.

Some of the differences are that hemp is stronger, and also has UV resistant qualities, while linen is the stretchier of the two fabrics.

When it comes to growing the plant hemp grows much faster and does not need pesticides that linen often requires. Hemp also can produce 2 crops a year on the same soil year after year whereas linen degrades the soil after around 5 years and grows far slower and has a lower yield.

How Does Hemp Fabric Impact the Environment?

Well, if you have made it this far you are probably starting to get the picture that hemp is actually a great source of fabric for sustainability goals and clearly one of the most eco friendly fabrics.

It is clear hemp has a positive impact on soil in fact hemp replenishes soil nutrients and has been proven to remediate contaminated soils. 1

As mentioned above:

Hemp’s fast growth and development make it one of the fastest sources of CO2-to-biomass converter. Hemp has been proven to be an ideal carbon sink as it can capture more CO2 per hectare than other commercial crops or even forests. For example, one hectare of hemp can capture up to 22 tons of co2. 2

Furthermore, not only is hemp good for the soil, but the hemp plant is actually net positive for the environment by internationalhempassociation.org only preceded by Alfafa, Ginseng, timber trees, and oilseed cannabis.

Bees. We are running short on them these days, and as it turns out hemp plantations are good for bees.

Industrial hemp can play an important role in providing sustained nutritional options for bees during the cropping season.

Sciencedirect.com

Sources


  1. Montford, S.; Small, E. A comparison of the biodiversity friendliness of crops with special reference to hemp (Cannabis sativa L.). J. Int. Hemp Assoc. 1999, 6, 53–63
  2. Günther, F. Carbon Sequestration for Everybody: Decrease Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Earn Money and Improve the Soil. Available online: https://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/files/Terra%20pretav1_0.pdf (accessed on 26 December 2019)

Want to hear from us?

If you would like to get updates on sustainable news, fashion, zero waste, beauty and general eco-friendly happenings please sign up to our newsletter.
Like you we hate spam, and understand you probably already get a lot of mails so we won't email excessively.
You can also opt out anytime.