Hemp is a potentially planet-saving material that makes for simultaneously soft and durable fabric, perfect for outdoor activities. Find out all about what it is, its benefits and its sustainability in the following guide.
Hemp clothing is clothing made from the stalk fibres of the industrial hemp plant. These fibres are separated from the hemp plant stalk, then twisted together to create a thread which is then interlaced to create a fabric.
Hemp has been cultivated and used for thousands of years. Evidence from China shows that it was first used by humans over four thousand years ago. Hemp's strength was prized and traditionally used to create rope, sails, fishing equipment, and household textiles.
Today, hemp is praised for its durability and its sustainable properties. It is a carbon warrior, regenerating the soil in the process and requiring no pesticides and little water. Read on to find out more about Hemp's sustainable properties.
As a textile, hemp fibres are among the strongest and most durable of all vegetational fibres. Given that the fibres are taken from the plant's stalk, they are designed to take the weight of the plant, and the fibres are longer than those of cotton or wool. This results in exceptionally strong, durable, and long-lasting material. A 2003 study by Prasad and Sain found its tensile strength to be even greater than steel.
Hemp has a very complex macro-composition. It is comprised of over 500 natural compounds (including amino acids, enzymes and hydrocarbons), which gives it its antibacterial property. Due to this, hemp clothing prevents the growth of odour-causing bacteria and can extend the clothes' lifetime by protecting itself from organic wear.
Due to the hollow structure of the hemp fibres, hemp is naturally breathable. This allows air to simultaneously move freely, helping you keep cool in summer and trap air to keep you insulated in winter.
Hemp is exceptionally porous, meaning hemp can absorb up to 20% of its own weight in moisture whilst still feeling dry to touch. The porousness allows it to be naturally moisture-wicking by absorbing the sweat from your skin into the hemp fabric's top layer, which is then evaporated away. This helps you keep sweat and odour-free even in the hottest conditions
If a material could be an eco-warrior, hemp would be it. It is everything you want from a sustainable crop requiring no pesticides, little water, and it sucks up carbon from the atmosphere like an industrial vacuum cleaner. Read more on its sustainable properties below.
Here are seven reasons why hemp is sustainable:
Hemp can absorb four times as much carbon as trees. The high leaf surface area and density mean it is constantly turning CO2 in the atmosphere back into oxygen. It is so efficient that for every tonne of hemp produced, 1.63 tonnes of carbon dioxide are removed from the atmosphere.
Hemp is a very easy-to-grow plant requiring 80% less water than other conventional fibres. A study from the Stockholm Environment Institute found it took 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton whereas a single kilogram of dry hemp, 30% of which can be used for fibre production, requires just 300-500 litres of water.
Hemp has deep roots, which helps bind the soil together and reduces soil erosion. It also produces high amounts of organic matter, which feeds nutrients back into the soil when they decompose. Hemp is also a hyper-accumulator of soil contaminants. A 1999 study by Dushenkov et al. found hemp significantly reduced radioactive soil toxicity at Chernobyl, improving soil health.
As a natural fibre, hemp is wholly compostable. This is unlike textiles made from polymers such as nylon that are inorganic and cannot be returned to the earth. Hemp is also recyclable and can be turned into other products once its lifetime as a piece of clothing has finished.
Clothing using non-natural fibres such as polyester and acrylic ultimately derive from petrochemicals such as crude oil. If we're to reduce our reliance on non-renewable products, moving to hemp provides a natural option.
Hemp is exceptionally fast-growing. It is ready for cultivation in only 100 days, meaning it can be harvested up to three times per year. An article in the Journal of Cleaner Production found it is also a very high yield crop, yielding 3x more per acre than cotton. This means three times less land acreage is needed to be cleared to produce hemp than cotton for the same quantity of production.
Hemp is naturally resistant to pests such as insects, fungi, and bacteria; hence hemp doesn't require pesticides commonly used in textile agriculture which are often toxic and contaminate soils and water systems. Furthermore, due to the dense canopy hemp leaves create, this blocks out sunlight reaching the soil preventing other plants from growing, therefore, eradicating the need for weed-killer.
Whether you are hiking or travelling, you want clothes that can deliver for you when the going gets tough. Hemp thrives in harsh conditions, not only being hardy itself, but its properties are ideal for battling the elements and terrain.
Find out more about our sustainable adventure gear.
Both are great materials for clothing, but there are some pros and cons for each
Hemp has three times the tensile strength (its tear resilience) of cotton, meaning it is far better at holding its shape. Its strength also means it is far more resilient to shrinking and pilling, meaning rips and tears are less likely compared to cotton.
There's no denying that cotton is one of the most comfortable fabrics hence its prevalence. However, as you continue to wash cotton, it can lose its softness and break down the fibres. With hemp, it provides a similar soft feel to cotton but wears in rather than out. This means it gets softer with continued use and washing. The washing of hemp also sheds a microscopic top layer exposing a shine without compromising its structural integrity
Cotton is lauded as a breathable material, and rightly so. It naturally wicks away moisture from the body, keeping you fresh. However, unlike hemp, cotton isn't naturally anti-microbial nor resistant to mildew. This means hemp can keep you fresher for longer, especially in humid environments.
When it comes to sustainability, hemp beats cotton hands down. Cotton requires more than 10x the water to produce useable fibres, requires triple the landmass to produce the same yield and consumes the highest quantity of pesticides of any textile. As outlined in 'Why is Hemp Sustainable?' above, hemp is far kinder to the environment.
If you think hemp needs special care and attention, think again. It is machine washable and fast to dry. Whilst some fabrics shy away from machine washes, hemp clothing benefits from it. With every wash, it gets softer and even improves its natural sheen. Due to its toughness, there is also no risk of shrinking or stretching.
Hemp clothing and marijuana the recreational drug, are born out of the same species of plant, Cannabis Sativa. However, over thousands of years of selective breeding, the same species has been bred for two distinct purposes: to be high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element of cannabis, or to produce strong fibres for commercial purposes such as textiles.
Hemp refers to cannabis that is less than 0.3% THC, although there is technically no taxonomical difference between hemp and marijuana. The blurring of these two products is highlighted by the etymology of canvas, which derives from the old French word 'chanevaz', literally 'made of hemp', originally deriving from the Latin word 'cannabis' meaning hemp.
Different knitwear products are better suited to different activities due to their design and the materials they're made from. Here is what knitwear we recommend for hiking, travelling and lounging:
Suitable materials: Recycled Polyester, Merino Wool and Handcrafted
Suitable materials: Merino Wool, Recycled Polyester and Handcrafted
Suitable materials: Cotton, Merino Wool and Handcrafted
You just need to give it some TLC and always read the label! Show your knitwear love, and it will love you back for many years.
Clothing containing wool should be washed carefully either by hand or on a dedicated wool machine wash, ensuring the temperature isn't above 40 degrees. Play safe, and hand wash if your machine doesn't have a special wool setting.
Using a dedicated wool detergent is also a worthy investment ensuring it treats your knitwear delicately. Finally, always air dry your knitwear – never tumble dry.
It is always better to fold your knits rather than using hangers - this prevents the knitwear from stretching or dropping. You also need to be mindful of pesky insects that love nothing better than munching on a woolly jumper. Invest in some cedar mothballs to prevent any emerging holes.