Hemp has been making a lot of noise lately, especially with the growing awareness surrounding the use of hemp oil for treating cancer. Although the word ‘hemp’ still often gets confused and lumped into the same definition as Cannabis, a similar but psychoactive plant, it’s important to realise hemp can be a major game changer for our world if used to its potential. As we go through this post, you will be wondering ‘why don’t we use this stuff all the time.. for everything?!’ Simple answer, farming hemp was banned in the US and other countries in the 1937 because of the threat it caused to certain companies and their businesses.
Although hemp has many practical uses, let’s focus on one that would affect us every day; clothing. For this, we will compare hemp to cotton, as cotton is a very popular resource used in clothing production. We’ll need to focus on various areas that have to be taken into consideration when comparing the two so we can determine not only what is better for us, but also what is best for our environment as it’s important to view things holistically. Let’s go.
HEMP VS COTTON WATER CONSUMPTION
Cotton: To grow cotton you require about 2700 litres of water for every kilogram you intend to produce. That’s a lot of water! Some areas of the world that produce cotton are running out of fresh water due to the production of cotton as well as clothing. Some areas of the world have even experienced desertification as a result of producing cotton.
Hemp: You require about half the amount of water to produce hemp as you would if producing cotton. Hemp is a strong and reliable plant that grows very quickly. Not only that, hemp produces about 200% – 250% more fibre in the same amount of land compared to cotton.
The victor: Hemp
Cotton: One of the biggest downsides to cotton is how much pesticides are used to grow the plant. Although organic cotton farming is beginning to catch on a bit more, the production of cotton worldwide takes up about 25% of the world’s pesticide use. The other unfortunate factor is that these chemicals can end up being absorbed into our skin as we wear clothing. More and more people are going to the doctors with skin irritations, breathing problems and other medical problems that haven't occurred in their families before, predominantly because of cotton in their clothing (or bed linen, soft furnishings, underwear etc).
Hemp: The beauty of hemp is that it requires no pesticides to grow. In fact, it doesn’t require any chemicals at all to grow. The growing nature of the plant competes with weeds and over-powers their ability to sustain themselves. This allows the hemp plant to grow freely and quickly.
The victor: Hemp
COMFORT & LONGEVITY OF COTTON VS HEMP
Cotton: Generally very comfortable to begin with, as you continue to wear cotton it ‘breaks in’ to become even more comfortable. There is no denying how soft cotton can be, but it is also true that cotton fibres break down over time and the more it is washed the faster it breaks down.
Hemp: The hemp fibre used in clothing is a strong natural fibre that, like cotton, gets progressively softer with each passing day you wear it and each time you wash it. Although it may not start off quite as soft, it is still soft and certainly would not be considered uncomfortable. The plus is that the fibre is much stronger and durable. Repeated washed will not break the fibre down anywhere near as quickly as cotton. Creating more hemp clothing would mean we would need to produce much less clothing.
The victor: Hemp
BREATHABILITY & WICKING
Cotton: Breathability is certainly a strong suit for cotton. It also does not hold odours for very much. This is quite possibly one of the biggest downsides to synthetic fibres, they don’t dispel odour well and don’t often deal with moisture well either. While cotton has a natural wicking system, it also holds moisture a little longer than what might be considered most desirable.
Hemp: Performs very well when it comes to breathability and wicks moisture away from the body effectively. Hemp also carries anti-bacterial properties that trump any other natural fibre. This means hemp will not mould or grow mildew very easily. Since it also does not hold odours, hemp clothing edges out cotton slightly on this one.
The victor: Almost a tie, but hemp is our pal on this one again
Cotton: Without the use of dyes, cotton comes naturally in white, cream and off-white. Cotton can be dyed naturally or synthetically to achieve a desired colour. The growing knowledge that cotton is very taxing on the environment and not healthy for our skin is creating quite the demand for organic cotton. In terms of the fashion market, organic cotton is showing up more and more.
Hemp: Given the various processes available to remove fibres from the stem of a hemp plant, hemp can be naturally creamy white, black, green, grey or brown. Without even requiring the use of dye, hemp comes in a variety of colors. Of course, you are still able to dye hemp both naturally and synthetically. Hemp is quickly becoming more and more popular in the fashion market as designers see the potential in the material while being a very environmentally sound option. Since it is durable and lasts a long time, it can be attractive to certain designers.
The victor: Hemp
Winner by knockout and growing undisputed champion of natural harmony, HEMP! This isn’t to say that cotton, especially grown organically, is not a good material, it simply isn’t better all around than hemp. In some cases, cotton could be a must use if something specific is being produced. The biggest differences are in the facts that hemp requires much less water and no pesticides to produce. Not only that, it boasts a lot more fibre per acre.
Concerned about excess CO2 in the atmosphere? Hemp is spectacular at sequestering CO2!
More and more designers like Stella McCartney, Tome, Kit Willow, EDUN, Song for the Mute, Akira and many more are using hemp in their fashion creations (as well as being great ethically sustainable companies).