Cotton is a well known and popular staple. It makes up the majority of clothes in anyone’s closet, and for good reason. The fabric is cheap, widely available, and most people would say comfortable. It can be made into a wide variety of products.
Manufacturers use cotton for its obvious perks, but probably few know the other side to this fabric. For starters, environmentalists are increasingly concerned about the role cotton is playing in the global warming context. It looks like growing cotton takes up quite a few resources.
So what’s a decent alternative?
Well, hemp definitely fits the profile. Advocates of hemp claim that this plant could solve quite a few environmental problems. Unfortunately, the plant’s benefits and uses have gone largely into the shadows for generations. But with this modern trend of going more towards sustainable fashion and with the legalization of growing hemp, it could be time to rethink our fashion choices.
Today, we present the hemp vs. cotton debate to find out whether a major switch would indeed be doable.
A short history. Hemp and Cotton
To understand the hemp vs cotton debate, you need to go back in history and understand where they’re coming from. Both have a longstanding place in human history.
Hemp has been around for ages. It grows all over the planet, and it didn’t take long for ancient civilizations to realize its multiple uses. We know hemp is a hardy plant. Its stalks are fibrous and thick, allowing it to be used in construction. The seeds are also highly nutritious, which is why many modern people use hemp seeds as part of their diet.
Specialists say that hemp has been in usage since around 8,000 B.C. This is long before humans were cultivating plants themselves, and long before the invention of the technologies required to make clothes. Nevertheless, hemp stuck around with humanity, and we began to use it in different ways.
One of the oldest fabrics…
Most studies point out that the earliest plant used for textiles was probably hemp.
Numerous archaeological sites have pieces of hemp fabric that have been discovered. Archaeologists assume that hemp could have had several uses for ancient groups, and hemp clothing was likely one of them. In ancient Egypt, hemp was used for paper production and rope material.
Hemp was majorly used throughout Europe and eventually arrived in North America. In the New World, hemp use quickly declined. This happened because hemp is a species of cannabis and became outlawed in the 20th century with the criminalization of the marijuana plant. Despite not being psychoactive, hemp too suffered prohibition.
The criminalization of marijuana had multiple causes. For very obvious reasons, it was lobbied by the cotton and logging industries. As hemp’s usage disappeared, guess who stepped in? Cotton companies with their type of clothing.
But if both hemp and cotton can make clothing, is there any reason to choose one over the other?
The Good & Bad parts of Hemp Clothing
As with everything in the world, there are ‘’good’’ and ‘’bad’’ parts to hemp textiles. To make hemp clothing, manufacturers use the durable hemp fibers from the stalks and leaves of the plant. The qualities of these fibers dictate the characteristics of the final material, which can feel quite different from the cotton we are used to.
One of the significant differences between hemp cloth and cotton is that hemp clothes tend to be made from, well… just hemp. These days, cotton tends to be mixed with various synthetic fibers and plastics, which may contribute to microplastic pollution in the air we breathe. On the other hand, 100% hemp clothing is not hard to come by, meaning you know exactly what is in your outfit.
So let’s take a better look at some of the other pros and cons of hemp clothing.
Hemp Clothing Pros
- Highly durable: Hemp fabric is durable – more so than cotton. It is less likely to succumb to wear and tear over time, meaning less consumerism over the long term.
- Becomes softer (and more comfortable) over time: With more use and washes, hemp actually grows softer and comfier without losing much of its integrity as a fabric. The same is true for cotton, but rather than maintaining its integrity, it tends to thin out and start falling apart.
- Holds color: The absorbent qualities of hemp means that it holds color better than cotton. While cotton clothes fade over time, hemp will retain its original color for more or less the life of the fabric.
4.Environmentally friendly: Hemp grows densely, saving space in cultivation. One acre of hemp can produce 1500 pounds of fiber – three times the amount that cotton produces in the same area. Hemp can also reduce soil pollution as a bio-accumulator, and it uses drastically less water than cotton.
- Highly breathable: Hemp is said to be up to four times more absorbent than cotton. It wicks moisture away from the skin, keeping you from feeling sweaty and clammy. Also, the antibacterial properties might prevent body odor – a major benefit for obvious reasons!
Hemp Clothing Cons
- Expense: At the moment, the niche place hemp has in the market means it is more expensive than cotton clothing. It is often ‘organic,’ and sadly, this label bears a higher price tag.
- Creasing: The organic nature of hemp clothing means that these clothes usually aren’t supplemented with polyester fabric reinforcement.
Growing Hemp vs. Growing Cotton
We were mentioning that growing industrial hemp could be sustainable. Hemp has an absurd number of uses, including textiles, nutrition, and construction. As a result, a field of hemp can be harvested for a variety of purposes. It’s a plant that can be 100%, because different parts of the hemp plant can be utilized in different industries. A tiny percent only gets wasted.
Hemp also saves space. Hemp plants are tall and thin and don’t take up much room. In many instances, they also don’t need pesticides or chemicals. After all, hemp is a hardy, natural plant. It grows well on its own without interference. Cotton, on the other hand, is believed to be responsible for 25% of the world’s pesticide use!
And as for water usage, hemp definitely wins out. To produce 1 kg (a little over 2 lbs) of cotton, growers may require more than 20,000 liters of water. For reference, this much cotton is the equivalent of a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
And of course, hemp crops can be mostly rain-fed. Without the need for irrigation systems (or at least a reduced need), the environment benefits tremendously.
Why Hemp is Better Than Cotton
Maybe you’re not convinced yet? That would surprise us but don’t worry, we have more arguments.
It’s a fact that hemp has a number of advantages over cotton, especially when it comes to the environment. The list with the benefits also outweighs the ‘’bad’’, meaning that hemp is by and large a more beneficial plant.
Before you jump the boat and decide to make all your wardrobe from hemp, we suggest you chill for a little bit. You will find a lot of brands that now sell cotton/hemp blends, which are far more economical in terms of price than 100% hemp clothing. We want to leave it up to you to choose what suits you better. < Wink-wink, De Ionescu clothing>.
Hemp and cotton have a lot of similarities. Humanity knows and uses them for thousands of years, and both can be used in textile production.
But hemp kinda has the upper hand in this battle. It is (or at least can be) more environmentally friendly to cultivate, and the fabric is generally more durable and gets softer over time.
For the moment cotton remains ‘’el hefe’’ of the textile industry. But we, along with other well-intended spirits, are working to bring more hemp garments in the future. Let’s hope for a more sustainable future!