What is Hemp and Where does it grow?
Hemp, also known as industrial hemp, is a natural and biodegradable fiber, deriving from the plant family Cannabaceae. It is the variety of the cannabis Sativa plant which contains exceptionally low levels of the psychoactive compound THC (around 0.3-0.5%), compared to Marijuana. Hemps long fibers are used to make yarn, which can be woven or knitted and typically blend well with other fibers.
Cultivation of the plant for medicinal and textile purposes is widely considered to have originated in Central and Southwest Asia, as far back as 4000BC. However, according to recent findings, Cannabis Sativa was first domesticated in early Neolithic times in East Asia, specifically China.
Hemp has been grown in every corner of the earth and some of the leading global producers include China, Canada, South Korea, and Russia, with production in Europe concentrated in France, the Netherlands, Lithuania, and Romania.
Where is Hemp Fiber Exported
According to PR Newswire, the hemp fiber market is statistically projected to reach $43.75 Billion by 2027. It was $4.46 billion in 2019, which implies an almost ten-fold increase in an 8-year span. Due to the pandemic, it is important to note that statistics for 2020 and 2021 might not paint the clearest picture, with trade restrictions rife across the globe.
Now, if we look at the map below which shows trade data for hemp yarns in 2019, it is easy to see that China exported the most with a total amounting to $5.59 million. It was followed by Italy ($560,000), Romania ($489,000), Tunisia ($376,000) and Austria ($227,000). In fact, the east Asian giant exported more than the rest of the world combined.
On the other hand, the countries which accounted for most imports were India ($1.53 million), South Korea ($1.09 million), Italy ($928,000), United States ($851,000), and Tunisia ($502,000).
Why is it Exported?
Hemp has multiple advantages as a natural textile: moisture absorption, breathability, and heat dissipation. For countries which lack the production capabilities for the scale of their requirements, imports provide much-needed relief. Furthermore, hemp is also exported for non-textile purposes such as health food products, paper, insulation etc.
Hemp Fiber Processing
After being successfully cultivated, it is plucked out at the flowering stage and the stalk is separated from the rest of the plant. This is followed by a process called retting, which eases the separation of fiber from the inner woody part of the stalk. There are multiple ways to do this depending upon the scale and particular needs of the harvester.
The retted stems are decorticated in the next step of the production process. Then, the broken stalks are scutched or beaten, which eventually separates the fibers from the stalk. However, before they are ready for spinning, the fibers are combed in a way that the last bits of the hurd (shives) are removed and twisted strategically to increase their strength. Lastly, they are spun together–either manually or automatically–to produce lengthy yarns.
Why Was its Growth Stalled?
In the US, industrial hemp products were conflated with marijuana products and prohibited under the Marijuana Tax act (1937), which heavily taxed all products sourced from any species of the cannabis plant. Hemp’s designation as a narcotic substance in the single UN convention (1961), kept it a complex and sensitive issue throughout Europe. Naturally enough, the introduction of less “controversial” fiber crops such as cotton, jute, bamboo, and later—the boom of synthetic fibers, ultimately led to a sharp decline in hemp’s demand and production at this time.
Why Hemp Fibers are Rising Now?
Thankfully, over the past several decades we’ve come a long way from the demonization of the plant. The sustained period of prohibition has created massive room for growth. Moreover, the renewed global interest in the therapeutic potential of cannabis, along with the decriminalization of marijuana in many parts of the world has helped remove the stigma attached to the plant.
The rising cost of cotton has also prompted many textile producers to look for a better alternative. These factors have eased hemp’s reintroduction as a bigger contender in the fabric world. To put it in simpler terms, the advantages of the fiber are becoming more widely accepted by the global community due to increased awareness.
Natural Functional Properties
In our blog post about functional yarn, we explored some of its many beneficial characteristics, such as moisture wicking, thermo regulating, anti-bacterial and high tenacity to name a few. Interestingly, hemp innately contains many of these properties.
Hemp yarn shines in its fiber length, durability (up to 8 times that of cotton), natural moisture-wicking (up to 20% of its own weight) and anti-bacterial properties. Due to the hollow structure of the fiber, its in-built thermo regulating properties work with the temperature of the body to allow optimum airflow, which keeps the wearer cool during hot seasons and warm during cool.
On top of this, hemp is known to be fast growing, highly renewable, and 100% biodegradable. It is also resistant to UV light and considered a carbon-negative raw material, which means that it absorbs more carbon than it produces. This is another reason for the surge in its popularity.
Looking Ahead to Autumn/ Winter 2022-2023
It comes as no surprise that a key focus at the European fabric fairs for AW 2022/23, was on the use of antibacterial fabrics. A survey by textiles intelligence reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in real reasons to embrace the naturally occurring antiviral properties of hemp and other health concerned fabrics. This seems to be in line with the increasing awareness around the climate crisis. Clothing consumers are gravitating further towards sustainability and long-term comfort.
Within the fashion industry, both global issues have bridged the gap between designing for environmental responsibility without compromising on aesthetic or high performance. According to Première Vision—one of the leading organizers for events and trade fairs for creative fashion—hemp has become a common yarn in denim collections for A/W and S/S 22/24, with brands like Henrik Vibskov, Wrangler and many more embracing a fresh direction.
Others like tentree have been flying the hemp flag for a while, not only sustainably taking advantage of the fabric’s extensive benefits, but using their platforms to spread awareness and encourage change.
It is becoming clear by now that hemp is rising again. Be it as a natural functional yarn or for one of its many other uses, the gift from nature is here to stay. Its versatility and cost-effectiveness as a fiber and finished product will set the stage for A/ W 2022/23 and beyond. Naturally sustainable and almost entirely regenerative in its growth process, hemp’s journey has only just re-begun.
At Hikingtex, we’re focused on moisture-wicking, thermo regulating, antibacterial and sustainable hemp yarn for many years, both cottonized hemp (cotton style) and raw hemp (rough style) are available.
If you are keen or curious, free contact us.