Love shopping? You're probably fashionable AF. You also might be (probably are) destroying the environment. Luckily, hemp clothing can help you look and feel amazing, while saving the planet. Here's how.
"Fast Fashion" Is Destroying the Environment
Since 2000, global apparel production has more than doubled. The average consumer purchases 60 percent more clothing – but only hangs onto each article of clothing for half as long as they did 15 years ago. Most of the discarded clothing ends up in landfills. Every second, a full truckload of clothing waste is burned or landfilled, according to some estimates. This trend is called "fast fashion."
Most clothing is made out of cotton. Unfortunately, cotton production is not sustainable. Industrial cotton production is harmful for the environment, as well as for farmers. Hemp farmers, however, can produce a ton of textile using only half as much land as cotton farmers. This reduces the environmental burden while improving farmers' profit margins.
Producing a single cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water. To put that in perspective, that's enough water to quench one person's thirst for two a half years straight. To produce and transport that one cotton T-shirt also takes nearly a quarter pound of fertilizer, .1 pound of pesticide, and over a pound of fossil fuels, according to Vogue India.
Hemp clothing requires far fewer resources. Hemp can be grown abundantly without much water or fertilizer. It's naturally resistant to pests, so it doesn't require pesticides or insecticides. (Most industrial crops are plagued by pests and weeds, so farmers frequently apply broad-spectrum pesticides and herbicides. These indiscriminately kill helpful soil life, along with the pests, leaving farmers even more dependent on chemicals.)
Growing Hemp Is Actually Good for Soil
Soil is one of the Earth's most important resources – and it's disappearing fast. One third of the planet’s soil is now “severely degraded” due to industrial agriculture, according to a report by the United Nations. And without healthy soil, we can't grow food. The soil crisis, some experts predict, may spell doom for humanity.
By growing hemp, farmers can actually rehabilitate their degraded soils. These superstar soil-savior qualities have prompted some experts to wonder whether hemp is a "miracle plant." Help cultivation can rescue soil that's been damaged by chemical-intensive agriculture — or worse.
After a nuclear accident famously contaminated Chernobyl, hemp was used to remediate the land. Thanks to its deep root structure and tendency to grow quickly and vigorously, hemp is capable of drawing toxins and heavy metals out of the ground. (Scientists involved in the Chernobyl "phyto-remediation" told Rolling Stone it was a success).
Hemp Cultivation Can Even Help Combat Climate Change
Hemp is what's known as a "carbon-negative" crop. As it grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. Thanks to photosynthesis, it converts that carbon into its vigorously-growing stalks and leaves. Hemp farms may even store more carbon than forests, some scientists say.
By taking this carbon out of the atmosphere, hemp reduces the overall carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the main "greenhouse gas" creating the "greenhouse effect" – the man-made layer that's trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere, warming our planet to dangerous levels and creating humanitarian crises across the globe.
Hemp clothing is only one of many uses for this plant. Hemp can also be used to make medicine, rope, shoes, food, and paper. If industrial societies switched to using paper made out of hemp, instead of trees, more forests would be saved from deforestation – further reducing the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. (Trees, like hemp plants, sequester carbon here on the ground, instead of releasing it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.)
Hemp can even be used to build homes. Thanks to the ongoing hemp revolution, more green builders are utilizing a building material called Hempcrete. (Hempcrete homes are well-insulated and, naturally, energy-efficient and carbon-neutral.)
Hemp Keeps Saving the Planet After It's Harvested
Hemp clothing is less likely to end up in a landfill than fabrics like cotton.
Hemp fibers are three times stronger than cotton. They also hold their shape when wet, making hemp clothing less likely to stretch out or lose its form over time. Hemp clothing is known to "wear in" instead of "wear out." In other words, it gets softer over time.
Saving the planet *and* feeling luxurious? Yes, please.
Hemp also naturally inhibits bacteria. When blended with polyester, it's 99.5% resistant to Staph bacteria, according to a spokesperson at natural-apparel brand Prana, which makes a line of hemp clothing.
Hemp clothing also has what's known in the clothing industry as "thermo-conductive properties," like wool. That means it can keep you toasty warm and insulated – but not too warm, when your body heats up. (Think Smartwool socks.) Its fibers keep you cool in hot weather, and warm in cold weather. Thanks to its thermo-conductive properties, hemp is now being used as insulation in luxury cars. (These properties of hemp fibers also help explain why hempcrete homes are so energy-efficient – they don't need as much heating or cooling as traditional homes.)
Hemp Clothing is Convenient for Any Activity
Hemp is very breathable against your skin, devotees say. It's also the fastest-drying natural fiber. (Hemp-blend bikinis are totally a thing.) Hemp remains extremely strong, even when it gets wet. Thanks to its natural antibacterial properties (like wool), you can also get more wears out of it, between wash cycles.
Hemp clothing is a great to wear in the sun. With its natural UV-resistant properties, it can protect your skin from sunburn. For high-performance outdoor apparel companies like Prana and Patagonia, which might otherwise add a UV-resistant finish to their clothing, it eliminates the extra resources and chemicals used.
Some say hemp clothing is good for your skin. It's safer than "wearing petrochemicals against your skin," they say. (Your skin is actually your body's biggest organ, so that could be kind of a big deal.)
At this point, you're probably ready to rip your clothes off and replace them with some new hemp-based duds, pronto. If you're the DIY type, or just a curious consumer, you're probably wondering: how is hemp clothing made?
How Is Hemp Clothing Made?
Making hemp into clothing can be a laborious process, but modern machinery is constantly improving efficiency. Still, it's necessary to break down the hemp, separate the fibers, and spin them into a textile.
After the hemp crop gets harvested, it must undergo "retting." This is a process which breaks down the pectins that bind the hemp fibers together. Some processors soak the hemp in water; others simply lay it on the ground and allow the morning dew to do the retting for them. Then the fibers get broken up. The stems are beaten, separating fibers out from the harder, woody core of the stalks. Eventually, the fibers can be spun into that anti-bacterial, UV-resistant, durable, breathable textile.
Where Can You Buy Hemp Clothing?
Companies like Prana, Patagonia, Chiefton, and Hoodlamb all make hemp clothing that's as stylish as it is sustainable. Hoodlamb is known for its hemp winter coats. These tailored coats are made from vegan materials, but have all the warmth and flair of a vintage fur coat.
On Etsy, you can find small-scale hemp clothing artisans. If you know your way around a sewing machine, and you want to try making hemp items yourself, you can order bulk hemp textiles from Hemp Fortex. (That would be a lot easier than starting with a hemp crop.)
Why Aren't We All Wearing Hemp Right Now?
Hemp is a cannabis plant, like marijuana. The two plants are related, like botanical cousins. However, hemp cannot get you high. It only contains marijuana's psychoactive compound, THC, in trace amounts.
But this distinction has long been lost on politicians, as well as the mainstream public. According to the Controlled Substances Act, which the federal government passed in the 1970s, all species of the cannabis plant were federally illegal.
Some speculate that politicans have been persuaded to keep hemp illegal, because it seen as a direct competitor to entrenched interests like the logging and timber industry – or the cotton industry.
Some US states have begun to allow hemp farming, in defiance of federal laws. The 2018 Farm Bill would legalize hemp cultivation in all fifty states. It recently passed both chambers of Congress, and President Trump is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.
Times Are Changing
The misconceived stigma around hemp is disappearing. Public awareness is changing, thanks to the cannabis legalization movement. This is a relatively recent development for hemp clothing producers, who have long been stymied by federal hemp prohibition. They've been forced to orchestrate complex supply chains, with most industrial hemp coming from China.
Still, even if new legislation levels the hemp playing field for American farmers, that won't necessarily replace fast fashion with durable, sustainable hemp fashion. Thanks to the CBD wellness craze, most hemp farmers can earn more profits per acre by selling their hemp harvest to CBD processors (or processing their harvest into CBD themselves). Thanks to these profit differentials, hemp is more likely to be used for CBD than for clothing.
And cotton isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The cotton industry is considered part of the American identity. U.S politicians work closely with cotton lobbyists, to address the industry's concerns. Each year, U.S cotton farmers receive hundreds of millions of dollars from American taxpayers, in the form of federal subsidies like crop insurance. Thanks to this program, paid for with our tax dollars, the federal government ensures that there will always be an abundant supply of cheap cotton. This makes cotton – which devours tons of water and chemicals and land, and poisons our soil – the fiber of choice for fast fashion.
Hemp farmers, on the other hand, receive zero subsidies. They're just saving the planet.
The 2018 Farm Bill might change that, if President Trump signs it into law. Still, there's a lot of work to be done. To fight the fast fashion filling up our landfills and degrading our lands, we need to fundamentally change the way our country makes agricultural policy.
But you can start by purchasing a dope hemp jacket. If the hemp revolution is televised, you'll be looking fly AF.