Hemp Fabric is Making a Comeback After 10,000 Years

Nature’s miracle crop

Hemp is a highly sustainable and one of the strongest natural fibers in the world belonging to the Cannabis Sativa family. The hemp plant grows like weed, eliminating the need for most pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and thriving on less water than most crops. It even absorbs carbon dioxide and puts back nutrients into the soil!

Hemp is often confused with Marijuana, though the two couldn’t be more different than each other. Hemp contains very low levels of THC (about 0.3%), the psychoactive substance that gets you high. For this reason, it can only be cultivated for industrial purposes like food, shelter and clothing.

The most sustainable textile

In view of resources dwindling fast and natural fibres like cotton being resource-intensive to process and petroleum-based fibres like acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex not being the most environmentally friendly, it is about time to look for sustainable alternatives when producing fibres and fabrics.

Hemp is a fast-growing plant that requires very little water and no herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. In comparison, cotton is more water-intensive and takes longer to reach harvest age and produces less fibres per acre.

Hemp textiles are quite versatile and have come a long way from the thick, burlap-like styles that they were associated with decades ago. When blended with other fibers like organic cotton, Tencel, silk, wool etc, hemp fabrics have incredible softness and can be used in myriad of ways.

Relevance in history

For thousands of years hemp was traditionally used as an industrial fiber. Sailors relied upon hemp cordage for strength to hold their ships and sails, and the coarseness of the fiber made hemp useful for canvas, sailcloth, sacks, rope, and paper. There is even mention of hemp in the Vedas, referring to it as one of five sacred plants of India. In fact, hemp is quite native to India as the plant grows abundantly in the Northern state of Uttarakhand.

In the 16th century, King Henry VIII imposed fines on farmers who weren’t growing hemp and in the 18th century the American Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. There are many such examples of hemp showing its importance and immense uses in the olden days.

Hemp fabric benefits

Hemp is one of the strongest and most durable of all-natural textile fibers. Products made from hemp will outlast their competition by many years. Not only is hemp strong, but it also holds its shape, stretching less than any other natural fiber including cotton. This prevents hemp garments from stretching out or becoming distorted with use.

Hemp may be known for its durability, but its comfort and style are second to none. The more hemp is used, the softer it gets.  In addition, hemp fabrics kill bacteria, making them naturally anti-microbial and odor-resistant. But that is not all - clothes made from hemp fibres are thermoregulating, which means they keep the wearer cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The fabric of the future

Today, hemp fabrics have found applications across various categories like home decor, fashion, accessories, bath linen and can even be used for making products like sanitary pads, diapers, eco wraps etc. Many brands and designers around the world are opening up to the wonders of hemp and its long-term benefits on the planet. Fabric makers like Hemp Fabric Lab by Bombay Hemp Company in Mumbai are on a mission to educate designers and consumers about hemp and help them make “healthier” fashion choices. When it comes to slow fashion, hemp is definitely the one to watch out for.

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Written by

Mansi Shah,

Hemp Fabric Lab, a brand by BOHECO  

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