When I consult with environmental stakeholders — and remember, every single person, corporate firm, and community is an ecological stakeholder — I try to drive home a single point. Sustainability is the only way to build a livable future for generations.
At Hemp Foundation, we champion sustainability through everyday effort. We believe in the tenet of internalizing behavioral changes that create positive feedback loops for the environment.
This means questioning commonly accepted practices and finding better alternatives. Cotton v hemp is an innocuous question on the surface, but digging deep reveals the potential to make a simple behavioral switch that has a significant impact on the planet.
Hemp is a far superior fiber to the commonly-used cotton. These are the various reasons why.
Can we compare cotton and hemp?
In some ways, it is not an obvious comparison. Cotton is by far the most widely used fiber in the global garment industry. Around 60% of all cotton produced worldwide feeds into the fashion industry, approximately 30% for furnishing and upholstery, and the rest for industrial usage. More than 70% of the fibers consumed in the apparel industry are some type of cotton.
So clearly, cotton rules the garment and furnishing space.
Compare that with hemp, whose myriad benefits are only just beginning to be rediscovered. There are still unexplored aspects to this miraculous plant. Hemp simply does not enjoy the same type of worldwide availability and usage as cotton.
So can we compare these two fibers, which are not on the same level of adoption by any metric?
The answer is yes. The key lies in the composition and characteristics of the fibers themselves. Both are tough, hardy, and lightweight fabrics extolled for their durability. Both have the characteristic rough-spun composition that makes any piece of clothing made from them last for years.
Cotton is cheap, ubiquitous, and heralded as the perfect natural alternative for fabrics. There is, however, a dark side to this magical fiber.
Environmental footprint of cotton – cause for concern?
Cotton is a highly water-intensive plant. From sowing to reaping and through the production process a; single t-shirt can require up to 2700 liters of water. Cotton also relies on a barrage of pesticides and weedicides to grow.
The overall yield takes at least 5-6 months to harvest, and one acre of land produces just about 500 pounds of cotton.
Even if the farmer uses all-natural fertilizers and pesticides to grow his crops, the conversion of fiber to fabric requires dozens of chemicals and synthetic dyes. Many such dyes are compounds of heavy metals and iron that take millions of years to degrade naturally.
Cotton might be an alluring choice for adopting a sustainable lifestyle, but these hidden facts should caution you against the fiber.
Growing hemp – A better alternative to cotton
Hemp, on the other hand, is a far cleaner and environmentally friendly crop. Consider this.
- Every single part of the plant, from leaves, stems, flowers, roots, etc., has some industrial application. Hemp finds itself used in garment manufacturing, health and nutrition treatments, furniture production, and construction activities. At the Hemp Foundation, we operate on a zero-waste framework, i.e., no part of the plant is thrown away.
- Hemp plants are natural habitats for weed-eating insects. So there is little need for supplying additional synthetic herbicides and weed-killers.
- The plants are thin and tall, which means that they can grow more densely per acre than cotton.
- The plant’s yield is phenomenal; a single acre can produce up to 1500 pounds of fiber.
- And here’s the clincher – hemp needs 40 times less water than cotton for growing. Whereas one kilogram of cotton takes up to 20,000 liters of water in its life cycle, a kilogram of hemp only needs about 500 liters.
All in all, as a crop, hemp is far more durable and environmentally sustainable than cotton. Our experience with hemp production has also led us to innovate and adopt greener processes to minimize our water and chemical usage. Therefore, we can assure our consumers that our plants are 100% natural and eco-friendly.
Hemp fiber properties – Similar to cotton but better
Multiple studies have shown that hemp fibers are more durable, water-resistant, and fire-insulating than cotton. The fibers are naturally rugged and do not crush or lose their shape easily. This makes them an ideal base for trousers, shirts, coats, etc. Their durability also makes them great for curtains, mats, and cushions, and other upholstery.
Compared to cotton, hemp is also more absorbent. This makes it perfect for summer wear such as dresses, light jackets, comfortable pants, etc.
Another point in hemp’s favor is its dye retention capacity. Pure cotton tends to bleed color during the first few washes. This is an inconvenience that can be entirely avoided with hemp clothes. Its fibers bind strongly with the dye and do not lose their shade or brightness on washing.
Many cotton clothes are manufactured from a blend of cotton and synthetic materials. While this makes the cloth softer on the skin and more stretchable, it reduces the fabric’s life.
An ideal way to optimize the durability and strength of the fibers is to use a blend of cotton and hemp. We have observed this blend to have the best results for upholstery and replacement for linen.
Does hemp have any drawbacks?
Despite hemp’s all-around positive performance compared to cotton, there is one potential area of concern.
Not all hemp manufacturing processes are “clean.” The green footprint of the crop is often in the hands of the agriculturist. Although hemp can grow perfectly well without chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, some farmers still use these products.
At the Hemp Foundation, we espouse a 100% planet-friendly mode of production.
In its transformation from fibre to cloth, strands of hemp fibers need to be bound together and spun rapidly to convert them into a continuous thread. This process is called retting. Some companies resort to chemical retting to minimize the time and cost of production, creating a morphed form of the fabric called “hemp viscose.”
Hemp viscose does not share the eco-friendly credentials and durability properties associated with naturally grown hemp.
So, should you switch from cotton to hemp?
Hemp is the fabric of a greener and cleaner future. I am entirely on board the hemp-train thanks to its wonderful qualities that cotton simply cannot match. Hemp clothing is long-lasting, comfortable, breathable, and doesn’t show age and discoloration.
The best part is that it is a sustainable crop. When coupled with the proper manufacturing process, it contributes to water conservation and removing harmful microfabrics from the water table and soil.
Make the switch today and embrace a truly eco-friendly lifestyle through your day-to-day choices.