There is a new industry around an old, quick growing agricultural favorite able to be turned into almost anything you can grind, lounge or sleep in.
This past weekend, a store owner suggested I purchase a shirt based on the social priorities of the brand and the material used in the manufacturing process. Without prompt, she also suggested that I check out their section of hemp clothing. This was huge!
First, after dedicating the past three years to understanding barriers and advancing sustainable fashion, this is a first for me in a casual retail setting. Personally, it marks a turn in accessible sustainable fashion.
Second, it could have been recycled polyester, organic cotton, or wool but hemp, this section literally would not have existed only a couple years ago. Now, at Indie Getup, we pride ourselves on finding innovative new designers who make local products with an environmental or social purpose and it is about time we showcase some of the best hemp products while discussing the history and future of the fast growing fashion of hemp.
The benefits of hemp fiber also extend to the long term experience with the material. Hemp’s unique growth qualities mean a unique fiber with strength and durability to outlast cotton. With natural temperature regulation and anti-bacterial properties, hemp wears very similarly to animal fibers like wool and alpaca. Over time, hemp continues to soften without degradation of the fiber meaning any hemp products should be viewed as an investment in comfort.
As the legalization of marijuana spreads from state to state, there has been one major unintended benefit riding its coattails, the long awaited, widespread legalization of industrial hemp. Often associated with its close psychoactive relative, hemp was banned in the United States when the plant was swept up in anti-marijuana propaganda. Propaganda films like “Reefer Madness” assured hemp’s demise and when Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. The tax and licensing regulations of hemp made cultivation nearly impossible for American farmers.
Industrial hemp used to be a boon for the farming economy and has been cultivated for multiple millennia. The use of hemp started around 8,000 B.C. and continued through different societies for different industrial purposes. In the 16th century, the British naval fleet cultivated hemp extensively to supply their constant construction of battleships. Hemp paper was used to make maps, travel logs and even bibles brought on board while hemp fiber made rope, sails and uniforms for sailors.
Hemp continued to be used in the early American colonies and continued to be so valuable that settlers could even pay their taxes with the crop. Then came the dark ages, where America got real un-cool. Prohibition.
While the prohibition era for alcohol came to an end, prohibition on marijuana was just getting started. Without getting into the arbitrary reasons why marijuana was vilified, hemp production and manufacturing was becoming more efficient and more accessible, putting it right in the cross hairs of the paper, timber, fuel and cotton industries.
For a brief period in World War II, given the proven dexterity of hemp, the United States government was forced to rethink their agenda, creating a call to action with the release of the film “Hemp for Victory,” motivating American Farmers to grow hemp for uniforms, canvas and rope. In response to the war effort, one million acres of hemp were grown across the Midwest. Quickly after the war, all of the hemp processing plants were shut down and the industry disappeared. As soon as the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was passed, hemp was relegated to the Schedule I category, sealing its fates as an illegal substance…until recently!
Unsurprisingly to most, the federal legalization of hemp is wrapped up in stagnating farm bills and legal headaches, while governors across the country are establishing commercial production legislation. Aside from hemp’s ability to be grown under a variety of conditions and used for almost anything, many are recognizing it as a way to combat increasing carbon dioxide levels and decreasing water levels.
Compared against cotton, hemp requires 50 percent less water but will yield three time more fiber per hectare. This is critical as hemp fibers, plastics, and hempcrete have great potential to act as sustainable ‘sink’ for atmospheric carbon dioxide and at the same time, saving non-renewable resources. The use of natural fibers has a very high carbon storage potential and in many use cases, industrial hemp even has a negative global warming impact!
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