Hemp: could it be fashion and the environment's new super ingredient?
Fashion often follows “wellness” and CBD is the ingredient du jour, especially in supplements and beauty. According to Wikipedia, CBD, or cannabidiol, is a phytocannabinoid discovered in 1940. It is one of some 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants and accounts for up to 40% of the plant's extract. In 2018, clinical research on cannabidiol included preliminary studies of anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain.
The CBD chemical from the cannabis plant does not induce a high – that’s THC – and recreational use of cannabis is still illegal in the UK.
Over in Canada, where they have legalised all forms of its use, there’s been a “green rush” into cannabis production. The Toronto stock exchange has more than 50 Canadian cannabis stocks now worth £37 billion. Investors are hungry for the cannabis boom and noises, from New York to London, are being made about legalisation.
But, what does this mean for fashion? With increased production and the world looking for less environmentally harmful fibres, could hemp be the new fashion favourite?
Jonathon Salfield, Marketing Director and Co-Founder of Afends, an Australian fashion brand known for its strong use of hemp within its clothing ranges, says: “CBD Oil is derived from the flowers of the hemp plant where hemp fibre is derived from the stalk of the hemp plant. So, in theory, the hemp grown for CBD production could also be turned in to hemp fibre. However to be more efficient with hemp for fibre, the ideal plant is a very tall Sativa strain, where the ideal plant for CBD is one that has thick flowers,” he says.
Hemp has many qualities. It is one of the strongest natural fibres on the planet, it is also one of the most resource efficient. The farming of hemp adds nutrients to the soil – hemp is only one of six genus of plants that enrich the soil – only requiring half the amount of water of cotton, and needs no herbicides or other agricultural chemicals. Hemp is also the only CO2 negative textile fibre, meaning its growth actually reduces carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
“There are many great qualities of hemp for fibre,” says Salfield. “What we love about hemp in clothing is the way it feels when you wear it. Hemp has had a saying that stems back to the days when cotton was becoming mainstream and that's ‘Hemp wears in, not out’. This is because of the length of the raw fibres are about 10 times longer than cotton fibre.
“We also love the fact that hemp has antimicrobial qualities. Antimicrobial is a type of bacteria which breaks down the sweat from your body, sweat smells so this is beneficial to us living in the tropics. However, the main benefit of hemp is the peace of mind that you are wearing a natural fibre that is good for our planet,” he says.
Hemp is also naturally UV resistant and hypoallergenic.
Demand is growing, Afends’ own Hemp production from 2017 to 2018 increased by more than 30%. The European cannabis market will be worth €123 billion (£106bn) by 2028, according to the London-based analysis firm Prohibition Partners. The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis estimates that 1.3 million consumers spent over £300 million on CBD products in the UK last year and BDS Analytics, a cannabis research firm, said worldwide legal cannabis spending will expand 36% to $15 billion in 2019, and pass $40 billion by 2024.
Hemp isn’t a new discovery, it’s been used for thousands of years – researchers have found hemp garments dating back as far as 8,000 BC – but we’re in an age of rediscovering fibres that take less effort and energy to grow. Just as we’ve seen a renaissance in linen, hemp is a natural and complimentary addition to fibres that are easily grown and have many natural benefits.
“As the world's population continues to grow we can't keep depending on GMO (genetically modified organism) cotton and polyester,” says Salfield. “We can't keep producing so many toxic chemicals. Hemp will eventually normalise as a common commodity. At the moment, hemp is very expensive to make clothing from, this is due to the infrastructure of hemp in the textile industry. Also, it’s a lot easier for a farmer to farm and sell cotton,” he says.
“If hemp was grown on a commercial scale it would be a lot cheaper to make clothing from. Being an optimistic person, I see hemp being one of the major materials we will use in the fashion industry. Hemp is considered an ‘Environmental Super Fibre’ and in the future, it will be considered an environmental superhero,” says Salfield.
This huge boom in cannabis demand, whether, medicinal, CBD or recreational, where legal, will see this more expensive fibre grown in larger and larger qualities and, will, hopefully, reduce in price.
Hemp was once seen as a hippy fibre, worn by those who were probably smoking the stuff too, but that will change as it becomes more mainstream and affordable and people learn the benefits to both themselves and the environment.
“HEMP IS FOR THE PEOPLE!” says Salfield. “Before the industrial revolution hemp was one of the most important commodities. It helped to keep people connected to the earth, it regenerated the soil and fuelled the economy. The modern-day hemp industry could potentially be the main source of pulp for the paper, fibre for fashion and give people in developing countries added nutrients to help them thrive.”