While we all do know about marijuana (hopefully in a good way!), little do we know about hemp. Hemp or industrial hemp and marijuana are botanically derived from two different species of the plant - cannabis sativa (sativa) and cannabis indica (marijuana). While, marijuana is used as a medicinal or recreational drug, industrial hemp can be cultivated for a wide variety of uses across personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics and textiles, paper, construction materials, food and beverages.
Hemp is one of the many fibres derived from the stalk of plants such as flax and jute. Cannabis sativa plant grows tall and the bark of the hemp stalk contains bast fibres, which are among the mother earth’s longest natural soft fibres and can be used for textiles.
The ‘forgotten’ plant has historically suffered a bad reputation due to its association and interchangeable use with marijuana. Due to its strength and durability, hemp is gradually returning to the textile industry to offer customers with comfortable hemp garments. However, its true potential is far from realized. Hemp is the sustainable solution that our current fashion industry needs to reduce its increasing carbon footprint. It is a more viable substitute for cotton with 4x less water requirement to grow than cotton and double the fibre yield per hectare. It is no coincidence that its cousin (marijuana) has the nickname weed. Hemp grows densely and does not need fertilizers; rather it returns nutrients to the soil and prevents soil erosion.
Every journey has its share of challenges and so is the journey of working with hemp fabrics. Very few countries worldwide have legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp and developed nations such as US and China are at the forefront of hemp industry. India has quite a bit of catching up to since it is majorly a cotton-market being the world’s leading producer of cotton. Over the last 18-24 months, there have been positive policy changes across select states to legalize hemp cultivation however there is a need to scale-up production capacity within India since the textile supply chain currently is heavily dependent on import of yarns and fabrics.