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Sustainable Hemp

by Lawrence Serbin, Hemp Traders

FILED IN: Issue 12 · Sustainability

There is a great need for an alternative to deforestation, harmful farming practices and crude oil. Hemp is the one plant which can replace most raw materials in a sustainable way.


True Hemp or Cannabis sativa has served mankind for thousands of years. This venerable fibre has always been valued for its strength and durability.

Materials made from hemp have been discovered in tombs dating back to 8000 bce. For thousands of years hemp was traditionally used as an industrial fibre. Sailors relied upon hemp cordage for strength to hold their ships and sails, and the coarseness of the fibre made hemp useful for canvas, sailcloth, sacks, rope, and paper.

Christopher Columbus sailed to America on ships rigged with hemp. Its combination of ruggedness and comfort were utilized by Levi Strauss as a lightweight duck canvas for the very first pair of jeans made in California.

While hemp fibre was the first choice for industry, the coarseness of the fibre restricted hemp from clothing and most home uses. Hemp needed to be softened. Traditional methods to soften vegetable fibres used acids to remove lignin, a type of natural glue found in many plant fibres. While this method to remove lignin worked well with cotton or flax, it weakened the fibres of hemp and left them too unstable for use. Hemp therefore remained as an industrial fabric.

In the mid 1980s, researchers developed an enzymatic process to successfully remove lignin from the hemp fibre without compromising its strength. For the first time in history, degummed hemp fibre could be spun alone or with other fibres to produce textiles for clothing. This technological breakthrough has catapulted hemp to the forefront of modern textile design and fashion.

Superior Properties
Hemp fibre is one of the strongest and most durable of all natural textile fibres. 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 fibre. 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. Hemp doesn’t wear out, it wears in. Hemp is also naturally resistant to mould and ultraviolet light.


Due to the porous nature of the fibre, hemp is more water absorbent, and will dye and retain its color better than any fabric including cotton. This porous nature allows hemp to “breathe,” so that it is cool in warm weather. Furthermore, air which is trapped in the fibres is warmed by the body, making hemp garments naturally warm in cooler weather.

Environmental Advantages
Hemp is an extremely fast growing crop, producing more fibre yield per acre than any other source. Hemp can produce 250% more fibre than cotton and 600% more fibre than flax using the same amount of land.

The amount of land needed for obtaining equal yields of fibre place hemp at an advantage over other fibres.

Hemp grows best in warm tropical zones or in moderately cool, temperate climates. Hemp leaves the soil in excellent condition for any succeeding crop, especially when weeds may otherwise be troublesome. Hemp’s strong roots descend for a meter or more. The roots anchor and protect the soil from runoff, building and preserving topsoil and subsoil structures similar to those of forests.

Moreover, hemp does not exhaust the soil: hemp plants shed their leaves all through the growing season, adding rich organic matter to the topsoil and helping it retain moisture. Farmers have reported excellent hemp growth on land that had been cultivated steadily for nearly 100 years.

Hemp Today
As a fabric, hemp provides all the warmth and softness of a natural textile but with a superior durability seldom found in other materials.

Hemp is extremely versatile and can be used for products such as clothing, jewellery and accessories, shoes, furniture, and home furnishings, surfboards, CD cases, paper and very many more.
Clothing made from hemp incorporates all the beneficial qualities and will likely last longer and withstand harsh conditions. Hemp blended with other fibres easily incorporates the desirable qualities of both textiles. The soft elasticity of cotton or the smooth texture of silk combined with the natural strength of hemp creates a whole new genre of fashion design.

The possibilities for hemp fabrics are immense. It is likely that they will eventually supersede cotton, linen, and polyester in numerous areas.With so many uses and the potential to be produced cheaply, hemp textiles are the wave of the future!

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4 Comments »

  1. So delighted to hear about hemp, that seriously considering going into production myself. Would like to know if it uses less chemicals to process than cotton does, before the fibres are usable in fabric.

    Any other information would be extremely useful, especially from those with direct experience growing the crop. Perhaps people could contact me directly via email?

    Keep up the good work

    Comment by Carey Robertson

  2. Just wondering, with the yields of mass, would Effective microbes give more mass??

    Comment by David Harmer

  3. WHAT ARE THE LEGALITIES OF GROWING HEMP IN RSA

    Comment by David Harmer

  4. I can not seem to find HEMP TWINE/STRING anywhere here in South Africa.

    I am looking for various colours to use in jewellery projects.

    Any Leads?

    Thanks

    (I am willing to order online, as here on the North Coast, most people have no clue what I am referring to.)

    Comment by Lisa

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