History of hemp fibre
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 used as early as 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, rope and oil.
However, the hemp situation would suffer a severe blow. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 prohibits both cannabis and hemp, although 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 until today.
HEMP FIBRE VS. CONVENTIONAL COTTON
Hemp provides very strong fibres that can be used for the production of fabrics that are far superior to conventional cotton in quality and strength, ideal for the manufacture of accessories and clothing.
Conventional cotton needs 9.7 liters of water to grow 1 kg of fiber, while hemp needs only 2.1 liters of water. In some areas of the world, there are water shortages and even desertification due to conventional cotton cultivation.
Switching to hemp could help conserve the earth's freshwater resources.
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 at 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 wider range of applications than conventional cotton, and can be used in construction, oils, upholstery, rope, paper and much more. Using more and more hemp is a very effective way to combat climate change.
Taking all these factors into account, we end up with a clear winner: hemp! Hemp is by far the most efficient material and is much better for the environment than conventional cotton, despite being at least as useful to the consumer. It seems that history favoured the wrong material, and we are all paying for it. That said, hemp's history seems to be changing. The 20th century was tough for hemp, but I expect the 21st century to be a different story for this textile.