By: Steven Daniel
So the research for this article started off with looking at Cotton Facts on Cotton SA, and admittedly it really didn’t look that bad. It only takes 3% of the agricultural area of the world and produces 27% of its needs, accounts for only 5,6% of pesticide sales, and winner winner… It’s cheap!
There’s a great quote from Terry Prachett’s Discworld: “A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
For most of us, we don’t really take the time out to think about where our clothing comes from, it’s only when someone brings it to our attention that we tend to wake up. And even then some of us prefer to be the proverbial ostrich, who in real life do not in fact stick their heads in the sand. The Honest Consumer came up pretty much straight down the middle when looking at organic cotton and its lower price point, but thanks to Terry’s insight I decided to dig a little deeper.
According to Cotton SA it only takes on average 1214 litres of blue water (from our surface and groundwater reservoirs) to produce 1kg of cotton lint, which is about 40% of the water needed. The other 60% is from green water, or what us normal people call rain. So roughly, say, 3000 litres for a kilo of cotton. Okay, but what about hemp? 300-500 liters of water to produce 1kg of dry hemp matter according to the Hemp Foundation.
Okay, but what about the agricultural area? 3% ain’t bad. As it turns out, hemp is a low-input and high-yield crop, and in comparison, cotton yields only 1/3rd of the amount of fiber produced by hemp per hectare, making it a huge space saver. Hemp also doesn’t require pesticides so it beats cotton there too.
What about comfort and durability? Surely cotton has to take the cake hands down there? Again no! Not only is hemp an easy product to blend with other fibers like organic cotton, it is actually far more durable and doesn’t get damaged in the wash. It has antibacterial properties too, that actually help your skin, and it gets more comfortable with time. It doesn’t shrink or stretch in the wash, it softens, so the more you wear it the more comfortable it becomes. Mind blowing isn’t it? Oh and it’s way better for the soil and removes CO2 from the atmosphere too!
So why aren’t we using hemp more and if it takes less land, less water and less chemicals to produce, why is it more expensive? Surely we would have been using hemp for generations if it was that great.
Well actually… Ministry of Hemp dates hemp usage back to 8000 BC in China and Taiwan. A French queen was buried in hemp clothing in 570 AD. In 1533: King Henry VIII, of England, fined farmers if they did not grow hemp. In 1916 the USDA published findings showing hemp produces four times more paper per acre than trees.
So what happened? It seems like either cotton won the battle through capitalism, or stoners gave hemp a bad name. The Marijuana Tax Act placed a tax on all cannabis sales (including hemp), heavily discouraging production of hemp in 1937, prior to World War II. It then made a solid comeback when the plant was once again needed for textile usage in 1942 to assist in alleviating the shortages caused by the war. Then along came the summer of love and the officials again banned the usage of hemp because it is essentially the same plant as marijuana, just without the psychoactive properties.
It took, get this… Trump!!! to sign the bill into law on Dec 20, 2018. This amendment removed the hemp plant, along with any of its seeds and derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. A huge win for the hemp industry!
As for why it’s more expensive, one could say that it is because this textile is relatively new to our generation. It is going to be a little more costly reintroducing the product to market once again as we begin to remember what the ancient people got right way, way before we did. And secondly, due to the bad reputation and link to marijuana abuse, hemp seems unattractive to us so our uptake will be slow as every company cares about how they look and want to deliver products that people want.
Solution: We’ve gotta want it! Want it bad enough to walk in a store and ask if they have any hemp or organic hemp cotton blends and if enough people ask, they will start stocking it. Guaranteed!
More to read about the wonder of Hemp here:
Cotton SA – https://cottonsa.org.za/cotton-facts/
The Honest Consumer – https://www.thehonestconsumer.com/blog/hemp-vs-cotton
Hemp Foundation – https://hempfoundation.net/hemp-can-relieve-the-cotton-debt-crushing-the-earth/ Ministry of Hemp – https://ministryofhemp.com/hemp/history/