Sustainable fabric spotlight: Hemp Fabric and its environmental impact

Sustainable fabric spotlight: Hemp Fabric and its environmental impact

Hemp clothing has recently been gaining a lot of popularity in the west. Once a fabric for the hippies among us, hemp has been going mainstream, popularised by sustainable fashion blogs and influencers. However, let’s not forget that in many other non-western countries, hemp fabric is nothing new and people there have been reaping the benefits of this sustainable fabric for centuries.

This article is part of a new series on the Ruby Rose Sews blog, called Sustainable fabric spotlight. Within it, I will introduce a sustainable fabric every other week and talk about the good and the bad of it.

hemp textural fabrics

Where does hemp fabric come from?

In many places, the cultivation of hemp (or cannabis) has been restricted for a long time, due to the connection between the cannabis plant and its psychoactive qualities. However, as farmers have been planting cannabis for hundreds of years, some were looking for its psychoactive effects, while others paid attention to the strength of the fibre. Due to this, the cannabis plant used to create hemp fabric nowadays actually contains very little THC compared to the psychoactive kind.

So what’s the problem and why aren’t we all wearing hemp yet? Much of the legislation in the world does not distinguish between the two kinds of cannabis, and so the kind planted for its fibres is often confused with the THC-rich variation. For this reason, we are not taking as much advantage of this fabric as we could be. Let’s look more in-depth into why that is such a shame.

hemp fabric swirl

Sewing with hemp fabric

Hemp is a really versatile fibre and can be made into all sorts of different fabrics and textures. But it is mostly closely linked to linen and is a great alternative for linen in any garment. It drapes well, is natural and breathable as well as being very strong. Like linen it does unravel when cut so always best to finish the edges with an overlocker or serger. I’m trying to source some hemp fabric for my next project, so watch this space!

I’ve found some beautiful hemp fabrics at The Hemp Shop, with a selection of hemp linens, silks and denims -it’s one of the best UK suppliers I have found.

loose texture hemp

The pros of using hemp…

Let me preface this by saying that hemp can be used for many more purposes other than clothing production: as a protein-rich health food, or for the production of biodegradable plastics and biofuels. Now let’s talk about the benefits of using it to create one of the most sustainable fabrics. Because if I were to summarise all the purposes for which this plant can be used, you would still be reading this article tomorrow.

The amazing thing about hemp fabric is that its production is not releasing any toxins into the environment and it does not pollute the Earth in any way during its lifecycle. It is very resilient, grows quickly and does not rely on large amounts of water. As a result of this great resilience, the plants do not need to be treated with pesticides. On the contrary, they actually nourish the soil.

As hemp has been bred for centuries with the strength of fibres in mind, this is one of the biggest advantages of hemp clothing. It does not stretch out, keeps its shape and does not rip easily. Hemp can be made into more delicate fabrics, as well as heavy-duty clothing. It is the perfect material to wear during summertime since it absorbs sweat and protects your skin from UV rays.

…and very few cons!

Are there even any cons to hemp fabric? Well, there are some, but very few. Firstly, it is often mixed with cotton, which affects its potential to be recycled. However, since both hemp and cotton are biodegradable, this does not present too much of a problem.

Another small con is the cost, which can also be resolved. Hemp does not inherently cost more to produce than cotton, but there are some factors driving the price up. One of these is the scale of production, which is minimal compared to fabric giants like cotton. Some retailers also charge higher prices for hemp, since it is something new and trendy in the west. However, as we all wear more hemp clothing and normalize the use of the cannabis plant for fibre-making, the price is due to drop soon.

We have started off the Sustainable fabric spotlight series on a high note with hemp. With very little cons, there is a lot of reasons to love this sustainable fabric. Has anyone made anything with Hemp fabric? Let me know in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Sustainable fabric spotlight: Hemp Fabric and its environmental impact”

  • Great, detailed post on hemp 🙂 It’s one of my favourite fabrics for eco clothing. I have a few hemp items in my closet (even some hemp undies!) – they were a bit scratchy at first but after a few washes are now super comfy.

  • What about the process of turning hemp into fabric? That is where bamboo falls down. Lots of nasty chemicals involved. How does hemp compare ?

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