Fibre Focus: Hemp

    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.




    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.

    Next Fibre Focus – bamboo