Updated: Jul 3, 2020
We all know hemp as a plant and that is has several uses but hemp as fiber for clothing is less know. Which is rather remarkable as it was once considered to be one of the most versatile fibers known to men. It was used for making clothes as well as for making sails and ropes, the filling of a pillow, feeding livestock, etc.
Its usefulness hasn’t changed: new applications have been discovered for hemp plants like for biodegradable composites, interior, and even cosmetics. Nowadays, hemp is generally seen as one of the most sustainable materials for fashion.
Once upon a time, hemp was produced worldwide because it could be used for everything. Nowadays, hemp for fiber production is mostly done in Asia and the Middle East.
It is densely sown to prevent other plants from growing in between them eliminating the use of herbicides.
Because hemp grows so densely and its roots can grow up to 9 feet (2,7 meter) it can greatly enhance soil quality and prevent soil erosion. The latter is a big problem in countries that mostly produce shallow rooting crops (corn and soy).
Few plant disease easiest that severely affects hemp so few pesticides are required.
Hemp plants are awesome as they are known to purify water (even wastewater, such as sewage effluent) from unwanted substances and even chemicals.
Hemp was even used around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site to clear radioisotopes and a variety of other toxins from the soil and water.
The stems of the hemp plant have the most fibers. These are harvested after flowering but before seed set. Fibers tend to become much more coarse during seed formation so harvesting needs to be done in time.
Retting is a process that uses micro-organisms and moisture on hemp plants to dissolve most of the plant tissues and pectins surrounding the fibers. This separates the fibers from the stem of the plant.
After retting the stalks are broken into smaller pieces and combed to removed the last woody particles so the fibers can be spun.
The previously mentions process is entirely mechanical that requires no chemicals. However, this a very long and labor-intensive process, and nowadays companies also produce hemp chemically which is faster and cheaper to create but less environmentally friendly. This type of hemp is known as hemp viscose or hemp rayon.
In both cases (chemically and mechanically produced hemp fibers) after waving the fabric needs to further processed in order to make it wearable. It needs to be dyed to make it look nice which can have various environments outcome, depending on the technique used. As hemp is a very sturdy and very rough fiber, it needs to be mixed with cotton to make it more comfortable to wear.
So, even though the hemp plants are very sustainable to produce with great benefits for the environment, you need to pay close attention to find the type of hemp that is most sustainable created into fibers.