With natural resources dwindling fast and petroleum-derived fibers (such as polyester and nylon) being harmful to the environment, the textile industry is increasingly turning to sustainable fiber alternatives such as hemp.
After years of federal prohibition, the cultivating of hemp for commercial use became legal – albeit with regulatory restrictions – courtesy of the 2018 Farm Bill. This has paved the way for innovation in the manufacture of modern-looking hemp fabrics.
So how much has hemp changed the textile industry? Here’s everything you need to know.
How is Hemp Fabric Made?
Hemp fabric refers to a type of textile made of fibers extracted from the stalks of the hemp plant. Hemp stalks have two layers: the outer layer made of rope-like blast fibers and the inner layer of woody pith.
Textiles industries only use the outer layer to make hemp fabric. But that doesn’t mean that the inner layer is a waste. It can be used to make hempcrete, biofuel, and animal bedding.
Once the outer layer of blast fibers is extracted from the plant, it can be made into yarn or rope. Ropes made from hemp are so strong that they were once preferred for rigging and sails on marine vessels. Hemp fiber is processed into fabric, giving it a similar texture to canvas.
A Few Examples of Hemp Textile Uses
Some of the most common uses of hemp fabric in the textile industry include:
1. Hemp Clothing
Some of the common examples of garments made from hemp include skirts, dresses, jackets, pants, T-shirts, bags, baby clothes, and hoodies. Hemp fabric is particularly popular because it can resist wear and tear, guaranteeing you durability and value for your money.
On the other hand, it’s common for cotton T-shirts to start shrinking, warping, or tearing after relatively few washes. Hemp T-shirts can retain their integrity and shape for longer.
2. Hemp Home Textiles
Hemp fabric is also used in the manufacture of a wide variety of home textiles. Today, it’s not uncommon to find upholstery, tablecloths, and dishtowels made of hemp fabric in modern homes. Hemp towels are more popular due to their exceptional absorbency and durability.
While some people may use bed sheets made from hemp, the fabric isn’t soft like cotton and not as comfortable. You may want to use it with other types of fabric for comfort. Nonetheless, the durability of hemp fabric makes it an excellent choice for duvets and blankets.
Hemp Use in Textiles: Pros and Cons
As with cotton and other materials used in the textile industry, hemp fabric has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Using Hemp in Textiles
Using hemp textiles comes with the following advantages:
1. Hemp Fabric is Incredibly Strong
Clothing made of hemp fabric is highly absorbent and lightweight, with thrice the tensile strength of cotton. This incredible tensile strength is probably why hemp plants were being spun into fiber as early as 2,000 years ago.
2. Hemp Fabric is Very Durable
Hemp fabric is more durable than cotton thanks to its high tensile strength, ability to resist UV, and mold damage. This means your hemp apparel will maintain a fresh and more vibrant look for longer while protecting you from the harmful UV radiation.
3. Hemp Fabric is Hypoallergenic and Breathable
Hemp clothing is also naturally resistant to bacteria and is non-irritating to the skin. It’s also high-moisture absorbent and breathable, making it easily pass as one of the best types of materials for outdoor wear – particularly when it’s hot and humid. Even better, hemp fabric softens with age after every wash, making it even more comfortable.
4. Hemp Fiber is Versatile
Hemp is compatible with other types of fibers and can be blended with materials such as cotton and silk for added comfort.
5. Hemp Fiber is Cost-Effective
Thanks to its minimal growth requirements, the hemp plant is less expensive to grow and maintain. It also has a short growth cycle (about three to four months), meaning it can be renewed up to three times per year, producing up to 10 tons of fiber per acre. In comparison, cotton takes up to 6.5 months to fully grow. With these facts, it makes more economic sense to invest more in hemp than cotton.
6. Hemp is Environmentally Friendly
Cultivating hemp requires half the amount of water needed to grow cotton. What’s more, because hemp is a hardy plant, it can be grown densely without the need for fertilizers or chemical pesticides which may pollute the soil and runoffs.
Better yet, the whole plant is used in the production process, minimizing waste. The seeds are used to make food supplements and oil, while the stalks are used to make hemp fiber and hemp hurd for hempcrete.
7. Hemp is Good for the Soil
Hemp plant roots reach deep down into the soil, holding soil particles together while reducing soil erosion. It also promotes soil aeration which is especially useful in crop rotation.
Cons of Using Hemp in Textiles
There are two potential downsides to using hemp in the textile industry:
- Depending on the blend, hemp clothing can sometimes feel scratchy. But since hemp fiber is highly versatile, it can be blended with softer fabrics such as silk and linen to give it a softer feel while retaining its durability.
- Hemp fiber isn’t colorfast, limiting the number of colors you can have on your apparel.
However, with recent innovation on hemp fiber, we can expect better hemp fiber products that’ll meet every need.
Would You Buy Hemp Textile?
There’s no doubt that legalizing commercial cultivation of hemp has created great opportunities for the textile industry. Easily renewable, cost-effective, and versatile, hemp is definitely the fiber of the future.
But while the early signs are promising, things can get even better if the government could ease some of the regulatory restrictions on the use of hemp. And, not just for the textile industry – hemp has something to offer for virtually all sectors of our economy.