Despite hemp’s long history as a material used to manufacture textiles and fabrics, modern garment producers have yet to embrace cannabis-based clothing. The reason, if you ask the biggest companies in the industry, has been feel. Hemp may be great for producing industrial fabrics, they say, but as a wearable, its coarseness is a problem. And especially for consumers used to the touch and feel of cotton. But Levi Strauss & Co. are about to spark a paradigm shift. The company says it has created a new line of clothing made with hemp that “feels just like cotton,” yet uses a fraction of the water required to cultivate cotton.
Levi’s New Hemp Jeans Feel Just Like Cotton But Use 30 Percent Less Water
Levi Strauss & Co. say they’ve developed a technique that solves the problem of rough, course hemp. Their fiber technology specialists say the result is a hemp-based fabric that is almost indistinguishable from cotton.
But while customers might not notice the difference, Mother Earth will. Hemp cultivation, compared to many other agricultural products, is significantly more sustainable. Hemp’s carbon footprint is about half that of conventionally farmed cotton. And because hemp is a hardy plant that can grow in many climates, it uses much less water. Levi says it sources its hemp from raid-fed crops. This reduces water consumption by about a third, compared with cotton.
Levi’s hemp-sourced garments are on offer in the company’s Wellthread by Outerknown spring/summer collections. For now, they just include jeans and a trucker jacket, but Levi plans to expand the selection soon. The jeans and jacket are a cotton-hemp blend that’s 70 percent cotton, 30 percent hemp. Levi’s Wellthread line, developed in partnership with sustainable clothing company Outerknown, is also making strides toward reducing environmental impact through other manufacturing methods, including recyclable nylon and waterless dying techniques.
Federally Legal Hemp is Could Transform the Garment Industry in Important Ways
For many, moves toward sustainable garment manufacturing processes is not only crucial, but urgent. Over the past several years, consumers’ increasing awareness of the brutal exploitation and environmental destruction of much of the global garment industry has rocked it to its core. Labor issues in the garment industry are especially horrifying. From poor to deadly working conditions, overworked and underpaid employees, to human trafficking and forced labor, clothing companies have brutally exploited vulnerable populations in developing countries. That global exploitation is part and parcel of an industry that affords consumers the ability to purchase $5 t-shirts.
But hemp-based clothing, especially when it is domestically and sustainably sourced, can change the garment industry in important ways. By reducing the costs of fiber cultivation and processing, clothing companies could pay oversees workers better or hire U.S. employees.
And as Outerknown CEO Mark Walker told Barrons, consumers want sustainably made clothing. “We’re building a very profitable business of customers that not only will pay more for preferred fibers but will only wear things that use preferred fibers,” Walker said.
With its new line of hemp clothing, Levi’s could start a major new trend in the apparel industry. A trend toward more environmentally conscious and sustainably sourced fabrics. With hemp now legal at the federal level, expect more companies to make use of it. And if it feels just like cotton anyway, that’s just icing on the cake.