Stylishly Sustainable

Industrial Hemp

Industrial hemp has to be the world’s most controversial crop. Although it looks the same as its ‘wacky weed’ cousin, industrially grown hemp contains zero to virtually untraceable levels of the psychoactive drug Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. While industrial hemp doesn’t exactly serve the same purpose as its relative, it is fantastic for just about everything else, including textiles…

Being a highly sustainable crop, hemp makes the ultimate earth-friendly fibre. Hemp fabric is incredibly versatile, durable and comfortable. Today, fashion designers are proving that consumers don’t have to look like an old hippie to shop like one, and are creating trendy, eco-friendly hemp pieces to meet a growing consumer need.

Green Growth

Over the past decade, sustainable farming practices have been steadily coming into focus. Farmers and consumers alike are beginning to realise the impact that conventional farming has on the environment. The issue encapsulates more than just the farming of livestock and food crops such as wheat; farming textile crops presents another can of worms.

Cotton is the number one fibre crop in the world, used to make a wide variety of items ranging from underwear and shirts to nappies and ear buds. Unfortunately, cotton is far from being an eco-friendly crop despite its ‘all natural’ consumer image. Farming cotton requires massive amounts of water. In a drought prone country like Australia, farming this thirsty crop puts a massive strain on the environment – though cotton farming remains an integral part of the agricultural sector.

Cotton is the most pesticide dependent crop in the world, prone to attack from a variety of pests. While Australia has made significant steps forward regarding the amount of sprays needed to farm cotton, much of the rest of the world lags behind. During spraying, many cotton growing communities worldwide suffer from health issues like throat and eye irritations, diarrhoea, and fatigue in reaction to the pesticides and herbicides used. In countries like India, the effects of cotton spraying are often far more serious, resulting in birth deformities and death due to improper chemical use. While there is a niche market for organic cotton, it is costly for growers to produce and the consequentially high price tag puts off otherwise eager consumers.

Farming hemp makes organic farming much easier and commercially viable. There is no herbicide available on the market for farming hemp, as it is simply not needed. When farming industrial hemp, weed control is not an issue. Hemp germinates quickly, choking weeds as it grows to reach a height of approximately 1.5 metres. If conditions are favourable, a growing hemp plant will develop a taproot penetrating deep into the ground, aerating the soil. When farming hemp, crops are planted closely together to discourage branching and encourage tall growth.

By utilising organic pest control measures, growing chemical free hemp crops is simple. Farming hemp uses minimal amounts of water and as one of the fastest growing biomasses in the world, it is reported that one acre of hemp will produce as much material as two to three acres of cotton. Farming organic industrial hemp is a wonderful alternative to farming labour intensive textile crops like cotton laced with toxic chemicals. Industrial hemp is a fast growing, carbon neutral crop with the potential to change the face of organic farming.

Today, hemp is farmed in an estimated 30 countries all over the world. China is the world’s leading producer of hemp with the crop also being farmed in other Asian countries like Thailand and Korea. In Europe, France, Hungary, Poland, Spain and Slovenia all farm hemp, with Romania being Europe’s largest commercial producer. The US is the world’s largest importer of hemp, and the topic of hemp farming is still subject to fierce debate. In Australia, the tremendous untapped potential of this highly versatile crop is just starting to be truly realised; at present, there is only one Government authorised drug free hemp farm in Australia, situated in Byron Bay. It is a shame that Australia is not already reaping the benefits of farming this incredibly lucrative crop on a large scale.

Tough Textiles

There is a lot of misinformation surrounding the perfectly harmless hemp plant, which has been farmed since ancient times, right around the world. Common misconceptions include that ‘you can get high from burning hemp,’ and ‘it’s easy to hide marijuana in a hemp field,’ but the facts speak for themselves. Farming hemp is at odds with growing marijuana, both in theory and in practice. It is interesting to note that some of the strongest opposition to farming industrial hemp in Australia comes from drug dealers themselves! Why is this so? The answer lies in pollination. Cross-pollination between a marijuana crop and an industrial hemp crop would greatly reduce the potency of the marijuana crop. It would be foolish, therefore, to risk growing marijuana plants within a hemp crop. Industrial hemp contains a high percentage of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD, reported to block the marijuana high. It is impossible to get high from smoking industrial hemp itself, or any hemp products including textiles. It has been said that if a person were to smoke an entire field of hemp it would only give them a headache.

Hemp is one of the oldest crops known to man and has had a long and colourful history. The drug stigma surrounding industrial hemp has been hard to break, although some fashion designers have turned it into a competitive advantage. Designers targeting younger, edgier consumers find that the supposed drug connotation the fabric has is actually appealing. Hemp will always have a ‘hippie’ vibe and there are plenty of fashion designers still creating bohemian themed hemp fashions, and marketing them accordingly.

Hemp cord and rope has been utilised in macramé for thousands of years. This time-honoured art of knotting cordage to produce attractive designs is still being practised today. Take a walk through any new age store and there are bunches of macramé bracelets and tie-dyed hemp fashions being sold.

New Look

Hemp fashion is not all ponchos and kaftans. Some hemp labels target a more mature, conservative end of the market by promoting the comfort and durability of the fabric, which has three times the tensile strength of cotton. Hemp is naturally resistant to mould, mildew and UV rays, making it a practical choice for time poor consumers after a fuss-free, wash and wear wardrobe. Hemp has starred in the spotlight of the international catwalks in recent years, proudly featuring in the collections of designers such as Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani and Stella McCartney. Hemp fashions today are modern, sleek and stylish, bearing little resemblance with the daggy, baggy creations of decades past. Hemp fabric used to have a rough, chunky feel; thanks to innovations surrounding blending hemp with other fibres like linen, silk and wool, today’s hemp is more comfortable to wear than ever.

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of how their buying habits affect the world as a whole. Ethical products that did not exist previously, like fair trade coffee, organic meat and sustainably sourced seafood are now common in supermarkets. There is a far greater demand for environmentally friendly choices today compared to decades past. Being a ‘green consumer’ would previously have been deemed silly or just plain weird; today, purchasing products that are kind to the earth is trendy. While terms like fair trade, organic and free range are no longer alien to consumers, there still needs to be greater awareness of sustainable textile crops like hemp.

There is huge potential to farm organic hemp here in Australia as a sustainable alternative to cotton. Some politicians are now recognising the value that farming industrial hemp would have, not only to the environment but to the Australian economy. While it is hard to get past the false drug connotations that industrial hemp has, examining the facts proves that there is no reason to panic. Educating consumers about the many benefits of hemp products like textiles is the key to making hemp farming acceptable and widespread in Australia. There is still a long way to go before fields of organic industrial hemp become a part of the Australian farming landscape; however as demand for commercially viable, renewable alternatives grows, surely so will these remarkable crops.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

June 19, 2018, 10:28 AM AEST