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What is hemp fabric and is it sustainable? This is something I have been wondering for a while as more and more hemp fabric options have been popping up at my favorite stores!
As consumers, we are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact traditional fabrics like nylon and polyester or spandex have on the environment. And as a result, more eco-friendly fabrics like TENCEL™, modal, vegan leather, and cupro fabric are becoming popular, but what about hemp? Is hemp the eco-friendly alternative we have all been waiting for? Let’s find out!
What is hemp fabric?
If you keep up with sustainable fashion trends as I do, the chances are hemp fabric has been on your radar for a while. So, what is it? Hemp fabric is an eco-friendly, durable, breathable fabric that has both commercial and industrial uses. Beyond just being a great fabric for clothing and hemp shoes, hemp also can be used for fuel, paper, and even building supplies. And hemp is growing in popularity, you can even find hemp underwear these days! In fact, hemp is expected to be worth $14.67 billion on the global market by 2026!
Where does hemp fabric come from?
Hemp fabric comes from the fibers of the Cannabis sativa plant. The Cannabis sativa plant is quite versatile and can be grown in most regions, although it does prefer more warm/tropical climates. Hemp plants can sometimes be confused as being the same thing as a marijuana plant, but this isn’t the case. Unlike marijuana plants, hemp plants contain a very tiny amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), will not get someone high and are not dangerous.
How is hemp fabric made?
Hemp fabric is made through a pretty labor-intensive, four-step process. The first of which is planting! Hemp seeds are planted in close proximity to one another so they will grow upwards and not outwards - this allows for the farmer to plant the maximum amount of plants possible.
The second step is harvesting. After about 80 days from planting, the hemp stems are cut and left in rows to dry where they are expected to lose 88% of their moisture content.
Next, the fiber from the hemp stems is extracted during a process called retting. At this step, the stems are left in a field to decompose and are crushed so the fibers can fully separate. Retting can also be accomplished indoors using chemicals.
The last step is weaving where all of the fibers are spun together to make sustainable yarn. This step is similar to spinning silk or wool! Hemp fibers might also be blended with other fabrics like cotton, silk, or wool at this stage.
Sometimes, hemp fabric will also be dyed but this is dependent on what the fabric is being used for once it enters the market. If the dyes are synthetic, this would also take away from the sustainability of the product.
What are the pros and cons of hemp fabric?
How does hemp compare to other eco-friendly materials?
I talk a lot about sustainable fabrics, but how does hemp hold up compared to cotton, bamboo, or linen? Let’s find out!
Hemp vs. Cotton
Hemp is a much better choice than cotton when it comes to the environment. When considering land use alone, hemp can double the yield per hectare compared to cotton. Help also takes up to a third less water, fewer chemicals, and less land to grow when compared to cotton… but it is also much more expensive. This is why cotton is often combined with hemp because it improves the affordability of the product and helps to make the fabric feel a little softer on the skin.
Hemp vs. Bamboo
Being natural fibers, hemp and bamboo viscose have a lot in common. For example, they can both easily grow without herbicides or pesticides. They also aren’t as land-intensive as cotton and don’t contribute to deforestation so intensely. Like bamboo, hemp is also very breathable and comfortable! They are both versatile in warm and cold weather so I find myself wearing hemp and bamboo fabric year-round as part of my capsule wardrobe.
But hemp and bamboo also have their differences. While hemp is considered a weed, bamboo is a perennial grass. In terms of performance, hemp dries much faster than bamboo and can be more stiffer to the touch compared to bamboo. Bamboo is also much more sensitive to heat and chemicals and can be a little more finicky in terms of cleaning.
Hemp vs. Linen
The first difference between hemp and linen is the structure and length of the fibers. Hemp fibers tend to be much longer, making them much stronger and more durable than linen. However, hemp also takes more water to grow compared to flax plants (where linen fibers are sourced from). In terms of commonalities, hemp and linen are both very absorbent fabrics, are biodegradable, breathable, and can be easily dyed into different colors.
Hemp clothing brands to check out
Here are my favorite hemp clothing brands!
You know how much I love Patagonia for sustainable jeans! Did you know their owner, Yvon Chouinard, donated his 98% stake in the company to solve the climate crisis? They also have tons of hemp fabric options! They blend hemp with organic cotton, recycled polyester, and TENCEL™ lyocell to make a sustainable fabric that has all the benefits of hemp!
PrAna sources its hemp from industrial hemp plants based in China. And while not certified organic, their hemp products are grown as eco-friendly as possible! I would still definitely recommend checking them out.
Tentree is a certified B corporation meaning their products are made with sustainability in mind. This includes their hemp-based clothing items! They are sustainably made, ethically produced, anti-microbial, and long-lasting.
Rawganique has tons of sustainable fabric options. They are also chemical and sweatshop-free! I love their hemp yoga pants which are made from a 10 oz organic hemp fabric that's incredibly strong and super breathable for all seasons!
Thought’s hemp clothing is a more sustainable alternative to linen. And unlike other hemp fabrics, their hemp clothing is VERY soft and becomes even softer with each wear. It’s worth mentioning that Thought does recommend never ironing or tumble-drying their hemp clothing items.
Tips for caring for your hemp clothing
While hemp fabric has TONS of benefits, you still need to take special care of it!
A final word on hemp fabric
So is hemp fabric a sustainable choice? I would say so! It doesn’t require tons of water or chemicals to grow and isn’t super land intensive. And unlike the cheap, synthetic products from the fast fashion industry, hemp fabric is VERY strong and lasts a long time!
But the sustainability of hemp really depends on the details in how it’s manufactured. For example, if the fabric is dyed using synthetic dyes, or undergoes any kind of chemical processing, the product becomes a less sustainable option. With this in mind, I would recommend checking for a trustworthy certification like B Corp when purchasing anything hemp!
If you're interested in learning more about sustainable fabric alternatives, I would also recommend checking out cactus leather and hemp leather clothing brands! And if you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – sharing is caring 🙂.