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What is the potential of Hemp being the textile of the future?

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Acknowledged and appreciated by the ancient civilization, hemp is the trump card for the fashion industry. It takes 2,700 litres of water, 0.22 pounds of fertiliser, 0.1 pounds of pesticides and 0.5 litres of fossil fuels to produce and transport a single cotton T-shirt  That’s the amount of water for one person to drink for a whopping two and a half years, and we are a country who is affected by regular droughts. Now imagine the resources required to produce a pair of jeans or a suit.

Besides, a study conducted on buying patterns says that the average consumer bought 60 per cent more clothing from 2000 to 2014, but kept each garment for only half as long. We’ve all gone through the sad statistics about the fashion industry held responsible for dramatic levels of waste and damage to our rivers, oceans and atmosphere. It is estimated that a truck full of clothing waste is being burned or landfilled every second! While many are deeply concerned, the present sustainable fashion solutions cost a bomb and requires major dedication and commitment. This is where hemp fibre comes to the rescue.

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Hemp fibre or industrial hemp is procured from the outer layer or the bast of the Cannabis sativa plant, which is famous for producing marijuana or hashish. However, industrial hemp is different, marijuana contains 20 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol content (THC) which causes the high when smoked, industrial hemp contains only 1 per cent THC. This fibre has some distinct properties: it conducts heat, dyes well, resists mildew, blocks ultraviolet light and has natural anti-bacterial properties. It is employed in many industries including paper, biodegradable plastic, construction, health food, chemical clean-ups and fuel. Big automobile companies like BMW use hemp fibre to reinforce their door panels for better safety standards. An urban legend even claims that the first pair of Levi jeans were made from hemp!

Hemp was one of the earliest domesticated plants by mankind with roots dating back to the Neolithic age in China. Hemp was put to numerous uses in ancient Indian, Chinese and Egyptian civilisations such a food, fibre and medicine. European explorers made sails and ropes out of hemp while Rembrandt and Van Gogh painted on hemp canvases. As a matter of fact, the American declaration of independence was drafted on a hemp paper. During the industrial revolution, the mechanical cotton gin made it feasible to produce cotton and thus hemp production faced a downfall, albeit at the cost of the environment.

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Today, there is a huge environmental crisis all over the world and the production of hemp fibre is a highly sustainable process. It has the incredible property of actually absorbing CO2 from the air. Hemp can be produced with half the amount of water and land in comparison to cotton and holds thrice the tensile strength of cotton. It can be easily blended with other fibres and doesn’t strip the soil of nutrients. Quite on the contrary, hemp returns 60-70 per cent of all nutrients back into the soil.

Now the question is why is hemp clothing not widespread? Before the ’80s, hemp fibres had a very coarse texture and thus could not be used for apparel. The major breakthrough happened in the 1980s, when Chinese scientists figured out how to remove lignin from hemp fibres without compromising its strength. Today it can be compared with linen and can be used to make anything which is made of cotton. The fabric has big pores and thus retains colour and lets the air flow constantly. Hemp clothing is highly durable and retains its shape for a long time. Switching to hemp clothing is a big step you can take as a conscious consumer that can go a long way in saving the planet.

There is a good chance that hemp is going to be the textile which the future needs. Brands like Armani, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have already come up with collections using hemp fabric. Sports brands like Nike and Patagonia use it in their athletic wear. In India, BOHECO is an organisation that has been working jointly with the policy makers, scientists and farmer groups to present India in the exploding cannabis space worldwide. They’re conducting research and studies on the wild cannabis found in abundance in North India to standardise low THC seeds that could eventually be used to grow industrial hemp within the country’s legal standards.

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