Now that U.S. farmers can legally grow this drought-tolerant fiber, hemp is becoming a hot commodity among sustainable clothing brands.
Move over, cotton: Hemp is here to challenge your throne. Now that hemp is no longer considered an illicit drug, fabric manufacturers are figuring out how to turn this notoriously scratchy fiber into soft, ultracomfy clothing. It’s showing up in T-shirts, shorts, fleeces, jackets, hats and even shoes. Even better? Hemp’s sustainability scorecard makes it one of the most environmentally friendly options for apparel.
Until recently, U.S. laws complicated the use of hemp—which, like marijuana, is a cannabis plant. But hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive THC that gets people high (marijuana, meanwhile, contains five to 20 percent THC). So after a long time coming, the Agriculture Improvement Act finally removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act in December 2018, opening up its use in everything from animal feed to textiles.
That’s a good thing for apparel brands because the plant grows fast (requiring as few as 108 days to harvest, compared to 150 to 180 days for cotton). It also needs relatively little water—so while cotton demands abundant irrigation, hemp can get by on rainwater alone. Moreover, hemp requires very few pesticides and fertilizers, yet yields 250 percent more fiber per acre than cotton.