Wednesday 28 September 2022

AD | Is Hemp a Sustainable Fabric?

When it comes to sustainable choices, fabrics can be a minefield. Polyester seems to be in everything, but brands rarely talk about the fact that this means plastic is one of their most used materials. Cotton is supposed to be good, until you hear about its intense water usage and impact on soil quality. So, what other options are there?


Hemp is a bast fibre. That means that it is a fibre derived from the stems of plants, in the case from cannabis. Hemp is a fabric that has been used for thousands of years across the globe to make all kinds of items, including clothing. It has dipped in and out of popularity and at different times even been banned from production. More recently hemp has come back into popularity and is being hailed for its sustainable qualities. But what are those exactly? 

Photo: GeeGee Collection

What makes hemp sustainable?

One of hemp’s biggest strengths is its durability. It is also resistant to fading, so it will keep looking good for longer than other fabrics that fade more easily. If we are aiming for a fashion system where we use our clothes as much as possible for as long as possible, hemp and other durable materials like it are crucial to any new production that takes place.


As its non-commercial name suggests, hemp is quite literally a weed. It grows very densely and dominates other plants by growing over them and blocking their light source and using up the other resources available in the same vicinity. This is useful for fabric production as it means that no chemical herbicide is needed to aid hemp’s growth. It is also a natural pesticide, so can be grown completely organically. Using a densely growing plant like hemp also reduces the amount of land needed in the early stages of the supply chain. It is much more land efficient than some other crops. For example, hemp produces double the amount as cotton in the same space while also using around four times less water. This makes it more cost-effective for producers and is beneficial to the environment by consuming fewer resources.


Landfills are a huge problem when it comes to fashion. I have written before for Remake and on this blog, waste and waste colonialism are huge issues. Across the globe, billions of garments get thrown away each year. Most of those clothes are made out of plastic (also known as polyester) and can take millions of years to break down and also spread into animals and across the environment through micro-plastics. These create health and safety hazards not only to the planet and the animals who live in it, but disproportionately affect those living near landfill sites. Chemicals, heat and gases that get trapped among the rubbish can cause fires, blocked drains increasing flooding, and spread disease. 


Hemp, however, biodegrades much faster than other fabrics. These micro-plastics won’t occur with hemp products. It’s not a solution to waste but if disposed of correctly, it will have a significantly smaller impact than other fabrics. Hemp is also a lot less harmful to the soil it grows in. It returns around 60-70% of nutrients it takes from the soil.


Hemp may not be perfect. There are still impacts when it is dyed, the biodegrading process becomes trickier when it is combined with other materials such as polyester (which it doesn’t always need to be), and if it is used to produce the same high quantities of garments fast fashion brands currently do, the damage will still be incredibly high. However, it is still better than others and can be a useful part of creating a slower and kinder fashion landscape. 

Photo: GeeGee Collection


Introducing… GeeGee Collection’s Expanded Hemp Range 


GeeGee Collection, a small slow fashion brand based in London whom I introduced in my last blog post, are now transitioning to using more hemp in their clothing line. From the end of October, GeeGee are adding to hemp dresses to their collection in addition to the hemp kimono already on sale. 


The hemp GeeGee Collection uses is organic and biodegradable to make garments that not only last and look good for a long time, but will also have a kinder afterlife when they are eventually out of use. This is part of the company’s aim to act as a counter-narrative to the current exploitative fast fashion system and to bring slow, sustainable artisan craftsmanship back to the forefront of our fashion culture. 

Photo: GeeGee Collection

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If you liked this post you might like: AD | Meet GeeGee Collection

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