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Fashioning the Future with Hemp

Oko!’s guide to sustainable fashion

Climate change is happening and we cannot ignore the world’s most pressing environmental issues any longer. While teenagers are appealing to politicians and scientists are on the hunt for beef alternatives, the fashion industry – the second-largest polluter after the fuel industry – has started encouraging sustainable and conscious consumption. In response to mounting pressure from environmental activists and non-profit organisations like Greenpeace and Peta, more and more brands are implementing eco-friendly strategies. They are adopting a more conscious approach to production, using fewer chemicals and even making garments out of recycled plastic. But the direction the fashion industry takes is ultimately down to the consumer. 

Humanity is laying a trap for itself, destroying enormous areas of forest – the figurative lungs of our planet – to create more space for cotton plantations. Most of the clothing in our closets is the driving force behind this mass destruction. As people are becoming more aware of climate change, the pressure is on to find solutions – and the most obvious answer is to invest in fewer, more expensive, but ethically made clothing items that will last longer. 

To combat the problems that come with fast fashion, many designers have turned to hemp. Not only has it become a popular cotton alternative, but the fabric of choice in Europe. This includes the Czech Republic, where hemp clothing is produced locally, making it a more sustainable option.

Hemp’s comeback is not surprising considering its rich history. It was the earliest plant cultivated for textile fibre, with records of its use in textiles dating back as far as 8000 BC. Paper, clothing, rope, and oakum were all made out of hemp, making it the first example of human industry. Until the 1930s, 80% of garments were made from hemp textiles, grown all over the globe. In North America, where growing fossil-fuel-based companies, like newspaper moguls and the lumber industry, saw hemp as a threat to their business. The production of hemp was banned, and since then a wider audience has known it only for its medicinal uses or simply as “that thing that gets you high.” Now, as people are becoming more aware of the unsustainable nature of the fashion industry, hemp is once again set to become the fabric of the future.

Photo by Andi Rieger

 

Why buy less?

The mass production of clothes is a relatively new phenomenon – it only started in the 20th century. Before that, clothes were sewn to order and, with rare exceptions, were not replaced until they were worn out. Today, due to inexpensive brands promoting fast fashion, we buy clothes and throw them away in huge quantities every season. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of clothes purchased increased by an average of 60% annually. At the same time, a lot of natural resources (water, wood, and oil) are wasted on production and transportation. To make one cotton shirt, you need 2.5 thousands litres of water – the same amount can be used to make 19 cups of black coffee or two Margherita pizzas. If these numbers don’t faze you, try considering how many cotton shirts are sold every day (approximately 2.7 million) and how much water is poured into their production.

Meanwhile, hemp production puts less strain on the environment. Compared to cotton, hemp needs 50% less water and 95% less pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, and insecticide to grow. Besides, the European climate is ideal for the cultivation of industrial hemp (used for fabric production), thus avoiding unnecessary imports from distant countries. As if that is not enough, the hemp plant is one of the world’s best CO2 sinks; its remarkable growth rate puts it above any forest or industrial crop.  

 

Why buy smarter?

The British and Scandinavian trend of investing in high-quality clothing is gaining popularity worldwide. This means that we contribute less to the growth of production volumes and, as a result, save the Earth’s resources and reduce the amount of rubbish on the planet. Hemp is a favourite in this respect as well. 

T-shirts, towels, and shoes made from hemp are much more durable than the same items made from a mixture of polyester and cotton, which means they will serve you longer. As well as being made to last, hemp clothing is naturally antimicrobial, which helps your body and feet to stay fresh and odourless. Moreover, thanks to its thermoregulatory properties, hemp clothing will keep you cool during the summer and warmer in the winter.

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Photo by Rui Silvestre

 

Why buy ethically? 

Ethical fashion involves not only the choice of quality materials but also the assurance of fair working conditions. After the 2013 tragedy at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, more people started asking themselves who was making their mass-market clothes. A total of 1,138 employees died when the eight-storey building collapsed due to unsafe conditions. And now, seven years later, the working conditions in many factories are still far from safe. 

The production of some synthetic fabrics is dangerous to human health. Polyester is made from petroleum, while cotton is heavily chemical. In some places, the people who make them get paid a measly $8 a week and have a high chance of getting a respiratory illness. 

Brands with an ethical approach spend money on safe, durable materials in production, pay a decent salary, and provide all the necessary social benefits for their employees. All this, of course, is reflected in the final price. 

Fewer chemicals are used in the production of hemp, which means a smaller impact on human health, as the people involved in production are exposed to fewer toxic chemicals . And since it’s  indigenous to Europe, the production of hemp is inexpensive, so it won’t be as hard on your wallet as you might think. A pair of trainers will cost you around 1,700Kč, and a T-shirt goes for around 600Kč.

 

To buy or not to buy?

If you can afford to buy ethically made clothes, it could be argued that you have a moral obligation to do so. Hemp (as we hope we have proven) is a great option. It is sustainable, undemanding, and has many applications. Its biggest drawback is the stigma around marijuana, behind which the rich history and benefits of hemp get lost. To be clear: no, a hemp sock can’t get you stoned. There’s not enough THC in it (less than 0.3%), so no psychotropic or euphoric effects for the user or wearer.  

So maybe it’s time to get high on the idea of being sustainable, reducing our carbon and water footprint, paying the retail industry the wages it deserves, and looking stylish while doing it. Hemp is  the answer. Wear responsibly.