Fibre Focus: Hemp

Choosing a fibre from a design perspective can be challenging enough, but the fibre that a fabric is made from also has numerous environmental and social impacts. It can be difficult to work out the best option when selecting a fibre.

Introducing Fibre Focus, our fabric blog that breaks down the various impacts of a fibre from an environmental, social justice and design standpoint. It is important to also consider any potential impacts a fibre might have if it were to become more popular.

Hemp :

Design advantages :

  • Strong and durable
  • Moisture absorbent
  • Temperature regulating, so warm in winter and cool in summer
  • Resistant to UV light and mold
  • Has affinity with most natural and synthetic dyes

Design disadvantages :

  • Raw hemp can be coarse and require processing to attain the same handle as other natural fibres, such as cotton
  • Hemp fabric’s coarse handles means it can require more pressing or ironing during its use
  • Hemp’s fibres are darker in colour than cotton and so may require higher concentrations of dye

Environmental impacts :

  • Hemp flourishes without pesticides or fertilisers and therefore it doesn’t harm the air, water or soil
  • Hemp plants grow very quickly and yield a lot of usable fibre
  • Hemp has hundreds of uses outside of textiles. Cultivating crops that have multiple uses is an economical use of time and resources
  • Hemp leaves have a large surface area and absorb a lot of CO2 during growth
  • Growing hemp requires much less water than other natural fibres
  • Growing hemp does not exhaust the soil of its nutrients
  • Hemp is biodegradable
  • Hemp is a cellulose, natural fibre that is grown as opposed to ‘made’ in a lab
  • Hemp fibres can be processed and spun by hand, this saves energy during spinning and avoids carbon emissions
  • Hemp fibres are generally easy to recycle because of their strength
  • Hemp plants have very long roots and help prevent soil erosion
  • Hemp can grow in many places worldwide and so fossil fuels are saved during transportation

Social impacts :

  • Hemp farmers work with far fewer pesticides than other fibre producers. This translates as better air, water and soil quality for local communities, as well as improved farmer health
  • Consumers of hemp fabric can expect fewer residual pesticide chemicals on their textiles
  • Hemp grows very quickly, so farmers can increase yields and generate more income
  • Famers can also save on production cost because they buy comparatively less chemicals than other fibre farmers
  • Hemp producers can generate more profits because the plant has so many uses in cosmetics, textiles, food and building materials

Positive potential impacts :

  • Fewer chemical pesticides in the environment
  • A decreased water footprint
  • Decreased farmer dependence on large chemical companies
  • Preservation of air, water and soil quality
  • Research is being conducted for hemp biofuel – this could have many beneficial impacts

Negative potential impacts :

  • Job loss for farmers in other fibre industries, and therefore a loss of income
  • Increased use of energy during the use of hemp fabric
  • Increased use of dye during fabric production

So there you have it, a simple breakdown of hemp’s impacts that you can keep in mind when buying, sourcing or designing.