Hemp, you heard it right. A variety of the ever-famous Cannabis sativa plant is used specifically for its industrial applications such as in the manufacturing of cloth. From what began as a simple initiative that aimed to experiment, hemp clothes have evolved into a full-blown revolution in the fashion industry and is here to stay, according to experts. Here is everything you may have missed out on in this area.
Why is hemp being used to make clothes?
Time and again hemp has been referred to as a miracle fibre of sorts due to the almost-ethereal properties that make it a great material in the manufacturing and retail sector. Fashion just got cooler, and how! The properties that make hemp a favourite of upcoming designers and even major established labels are its sustainability aspect.
Couple it with any material, say fashion experts, and you will land with a fabric that’s unlike any you’ve seen before. The simplicity and textural richness that hemp contributes are some of the many reasons the industry is booming.
In contrast to other fibre crops that are heavy on the economy, hemp is one of the most cost-effective options. Flat fields with good percolation along with a healthy supply of water and nutrients are not tough to come by in the fields of India, thus making it conducive to grow the crop.
These days, the strength of the fibre is given an equal weightage as the texture. And when it comes to tensile strength, there’s no question of hemp underperforming.
Hemp clothes are not just the newest fashion fever for the sake of trends. These are light on the environment as they do not necessitate the same amounts of pesticides that are required by other crops. In addition to this, there is nil wastage, as every part of the crop is put to use in ways we love!
Keeping to the lines of how hemp is managing to make headlines in the fashion industry, we spoke to brands that offer hemp clothing and accessories. They couldn’t be prouder!
What is hemp used for in clothes?
Ecentric India - a hemp-based sustainable fashion brand was started when Salendra Gupta realised that the number of sustainable fashion brands in India was limited. After having researched the hemp industry, he noticed the options for hemp fabric in India were negligible. “I started on the journey to hempower the fashion industry in India to bridge the gap and provide customers with an option to try sustainable fashion. Therefore we created an environment-centric (‘E’centric) sustainable fashion brand.”
Often when one applauds the use of hemp in making clothes, an aspect that is silent is the price. Salendra Gupta gives us an insight into this side of the business. “Given that globally and in India hemp industry is still in a nascent stage, the pricing is a bit on the higher side. Currently in India cost of hemp fabric is 20-25% higher compared to linen fabric. So naturally, the cost of the end product would be a little higher as well. However, we have tried to keep our margins in check so that more people can try hemp clothing.”
Gupta says that the response from people has been great and they have seen consumers easily making that switch to trying sustainable clothing.
Is hemp a good material for producing clothes?
Ever since Aishwarya Sultania wanted to start a sustainable clothing brand, she kept looking and indulging in all the sustainable fabrics available and when she came across hemp, it left her awestruck in terms of its utility value and the thought of how underestimated this fabric has been. “I started exploring hemp as a fabric and how it could be used to bridge the gap between nature and fashion and finally came up with a collection made out of hemp,” says Aishwarya.
She goes on to speak about the fact that hemp has not been a common raw material as of now and very few people know about it and hence, the growth of its industry has been delayed. “The potential for the success of this industry is huge, but it's still in its baby steps. Compared to other natural materials used to produce clothing, hemp is still significantly behind. However, the hemp industry is starting to bloom and reach new records every day, and will become more economical in the coming days with an increase in its demand.”
What makes hemp so suitable for fabrics, she says, is its non-wrinkle properties and this is something amazing to work with, especially in the fast-paced and crowded lives we lead.
The idea for this sustainable brand came to Aishwarya while decluttering her mother’s wardrobe. “I realized that 30% of her clothes were of no use to her and out of which 15% were worn not more than once. With that, I buckled up and started working on Amalgam! We use Hemp in most of our clothing process because they’re known as ‘Environmental Super Fibre’. Additionally, these fabrics tend to be coloured with eco-friendly and non-toxic dyes.”
Are hemp clothes different from others?
Hemp is one of the most sustainable yet underutilized resources available to us, says Zoya Wahi - Co-Founder of Aslee, a hemp initiative. “Being hill station enthusiasts we got to know a lot more about Hemp through interaction with local communities and producers. We decided to study up more about the fabric and its intrinsic benefits, and figured that hemp would be one of the fabrics we'd work with.”
According to her the revenue aspect of the hemp industry is all about perception. “One can buy a t-shirt ranging from 100 rupees to 10000+ rupees, and there are so many factors at play that impact the cost. One has to make sustainable alternatives more accessible and also a good lifestyle fit for people.” She points out that local sourcing and production can help bring costs down. Also, government schemes and subsidies can help small, local, ethical businesses in a big way while also bolstering the economy.
“Overall, the more the demand for sustainable alternatives goes up, proportionately the cost starts to come down considering producing in volumes is always more cost-effective. The balance to maintain is to not overburden a single resource and impact ecological balance.”
At Aslee, the focus is on building real, durable, ecologically responsible and fashionable products.
For manufacturing sustainably Aslee has three ground rules -
- Rule 1: Make products using materials and processes that are good for the planet. Source from what is available with minimal ecological impact.
- Rule 2: Don’t make someone else’s life miserable while doing it. Improve the lives of the people down the supply chain. If we grow, everyone grows together.
- Rule 3: Reduce waste at each step.
How conducive is the hemp manufacturing process?
With a vision to become the foremost players in the hemp textile industry in India and create an ecosystem for designers, consumers and innovators to come together in a collaborative spirit, Hemp Fabric Lab - a product of BOHECO wishes to educate people about the wonders of hemp and banish any myths surrounding it. “We want hemp to be the no.1 fabric option for brands, designers and consumers because aside from being a far more sustainable option than most natural fibres, it’s also a great USP for any brand to have,” says Neha Rao.
We asked them whether hemp is more sales-friendly compared to the current cotton and here’s what they had to say.
Hemp is more expensive than cotton and there are several reasons for this:
1. Hemp in textiles is still a nascent industry especially in India and hasn't reached that price competitiveness as yet. Prices of hemp can be compared to linen in the global scenario.
2. Conversion of hemp stalk into conventional fibre is a labour-intensive process.
3. The technology to process hemp fibres is expensive and not easily available.
4. Large-scale manufacturing is new compared to cotton.
5. Majority of the hemp production and manufacturing happens in China, however, our fabric is made and manufactured in India. We are the pioneers in this sector working from front end to back end.
As far as the manufacturing and production of the fabrics, the team has partnered up with different mills and weavers across the globe to source hemp fibres, yarns, and fabrics. “Currently, cultivation of hemp for fibre is not optimal in India and is not of the right quality. It is also not being produced in enough quantity to meet the demands of the booming textile market. This is the reason for importing our fibres.”
They refer to hemp’s uses are kaleidoscopic. “Pull its fibre out and it’ll give you yarn; chop it into softwood, it’ll give you material to build a shelter; study its genetics, and you’ll find medicine. Our design fuses this very potential with the existing industries of Agriculture, Technology, and Medicine, to bring together Community, Impact, and Value.”
How cool are hemp accessories?
When one thinks of the hemp fashion industry, it's impossible to leave out the accessories. Trendy, minimalistic and cool, is how these pieces of fashion are described. “We produce accessories out of scrap hemp fabric, firstly because we believe that hemp is one of the most sustainably grown plants from which fabric is obtained and processed. Secondly, scrap from industry rolls gives us an opportunity to use this amazingly versatile fabric to its full potential,” says the team at Verth.
Renata Millett & Shreya Kothari founded Verth which finds its roots in the phrase ‘We Are Earth’. “Through Verth, we hope to make a sustainable lifestyle, accessible, and affordable. With products ranging from daily essentials to accessories, we aim to embed into the life of women and men alike, supporting their effort to build a better, more prosperous and eco-conscious tomorrow.”
Verth uses scrap fabric and sources from brands that are conscious manufacturers. “Even the scrap comes to us at a cost based on the weight. Most of our folks are thrilled to know that we are making daily-use accessories of scrap hemp; these don’t usually convert into sales. We think if people fully understood the ethical decision behind these creations, it would gain more traction.”
With an aim to make the production process as environment-friendly as possible, Verth works with a couple of local artisans to get the manufacturing done to promote local work and reduce carbon footprints. “Our designs are outcome-oriented in order to create the least waste, even from scrap. The end goal is to make the product as sustainable as possible.”