HEMP fiber HISTORY
Hemp fiber has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. It was one of the mainstays of ancient China and Mesopotamia, and was used to produce rope, sailcloth, and paper. The medicinal properties of the hemp plant were already used in 2700 BC.
Christopher Columbus brought hemp to America, where it became a staple crop. In the 17th century, growing hemp was required by law for American farmers. It was used to make textiles, ropes, and oil.
Photo by: Matteo Paganelli
However, the hemp situation would suffer a severe blow. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 banned both cannabis and hemp, even though the latter contains less than 0.3% THC and is not psychoactive. Other western countries followed suit, and hemp soon became an illegal crop, while cotton continued to rise to this day.
HEMP FIBER VS CONVENTIONAL COTTON
Hemp provides very resistant fibers that can be used for the production of fabrics that are far superior to conventional cotton in quality and resistance, ideal for the manufacture of accessories and clothing.
THE CONSUMPTION OF WATER
Cotton needs 9.7 liters of water to grow 1 kg of fiber, while hemp only needs 2.1 liters of water. In some areas of the world, there is a shortage of water, and even desertification due to cotton cultivation. Switching to hemp could help conserve the earth’s freshwater resources.
Hemp can produce the same amount of material as cotton on half the land area. It may not have been much of a concern to farmers in the 18th century, but in the modern world where land is scarce, we should think more about efficient crops.
USE OF PESTICIDES
Hemp plants act as natural pesticides for insects, nematodes, mites, and weeds. Therefore, they require fewer pesticide treatments than cotton. As mentioned above, hemp only needs half as much soil as cotton for the same amount of product, further reducing the amount of pesticide used in a hemp shirt compared to a cotton one.
A good way to tackle climate change is to capture CO₂ in plants and then make practical use of those plants. Both cotton and hemp are effective in absorbing CO₂, with 40% of the dry weight of cotton and 44% of the dry weight of hemp stalks. The advantage of hemp here could be even greater: hemp has a greater variety of applications than conventional cotton, and can be used in construction, oils, upholstery, rope, paper, and much more. Using hemp more and more is a very effective way to fight climate change.
Taking all of these factors into account, we end up with a clear winner: hemp! Hemp is by far the most efficient material, and it is much better for the environment than conventional cotton, despite being at least as useful for the consumer. It seems that history favored the wrong material, and we are all paying for it.
That said, the history of hemp seems to be changing. The 20th century was tough for hemp, but hopefully the 21st century will be a story different for this textile.