If you take a look in your closet, most of your clothes will probably be made from cotton. It’s cheap, readily available, and pretty comfortable, which is why manufacturers use it so much. However, most people who take a stance in the hemp vs cotton argument claim that the former is a much better alternative.
Indeed, it is true that fast fashion is harming our planet and the people that live on it, and farming the crops that go into our clothes is a huge part of the problem.
However, there could be a great cotton alternative that is readily available, and perhaps even better than cotton at making clothes. This alternative is hemp. Hemp is a hot topic lately, and we want to bring to light just one of its many uses.
Today we will be taking a close look at the hemp vs cotton discussion (when it comes to clothes and textiles) and why, if hemp really is the better alternative, we aren’t using it already.
Hemp vs. Cotton: A Brief History
Both hemp and cotton have a long history. Hemp has been used for centuries in many different ancient civilizations. It is a hardy plant that grows naturally in the northern hemisphere, and is fibrous stalks meant it could be used for just about everything. Its seeds could even be used for nutrition, and growing the crops in agriculture (when humans began mass-producing) could protect other crops from pests.
It is estimated that hemp has been in usage since about 8000 BC, which is an unfathomably long time ago. It has long been used in the creation of clothing. However, hemp is a member of the cannabis plant family, and it has thus been unfortunately lumped together with marijuana. When the marijuana prohibition movement began at the start of the 20th century, hemp was also outlawed – this being despite the fact it is not at all psychoactive and is in fact useful.
As a result, the common occurrence of hemp died out in the 1900s, and cotton took over.
Cotton’s utilization can be traced back to around 3000 BC. When the seeds of the plant split, they produce fluffy white fibers that can be spun into cotton. It is easy to grow and, importantly, was never made illegal. This is why cotton surpassed hemp as the primary plant used in textile production. It is estimated that 20 million tons of cotton are produced in the world each year.
Hemp vs. Cotton in Terms of Material Quality
Cotton is valued for its soft feel and breathable fabric. These qualities make it perfect as an everyday clothing item, and that’s why most clothes use it.
However, hemp is also a natural fiber, and it actually has similar properties. It might even be softer than cotton. Upon first touch, you might not believe us, because at first wear it might not feel quite as soft as cotton. But hemp is known to become softer the more you wear and wash it – the opposite of cotton.
Hemp is also highly breathable, despite being more insulating. As a material that is four times more absorbent, it wicks moisture away from the skin to prevent feelings of clamminess. Furthermore, hemp may have antibacterial properties that fight off unpleasant odors as you sweat – it’s breathable AND gets rid of BO!
Cotton vs. Hemp in Terms of Longevity
Cotton is known to not last very long. Clothes often shrink in the wash, but cotton shirts may also end up stretching, and it is common to find wears and tears after a while.
Hemp may also shrink the first time you wash it, which is exactly the same thing that occurs with cotton – the shrink is so small that you probably won’t notice it. And it’s true that you have to ‘break in’ hemp clothing by wearing it and washing it a few times to get that super-soft feel. That being said, it’s a lot more durable than cotton.
Hemp has a higher tensile strength than cotton, meaning that it will not stretch or tear as easily.
Furthermore, its absorbent qualities mean that it holds color so much better. While your cotton shirts might fade over time, hemp will remain vibrant and bright.
Hemp vs. Cotton in Terms of Versatility
Cotton is a pretty versatile plant in terms of its textile use, we have to admit. You can make a whole range of things out of cotton, and it seems to do the job just fine.
But hemp’s uses don’t stop at textiles. It can be used in construction, since the high cellulose content of the plant can be used in the creation of bioplastics strong enough to build cars.
Additionally, you can eat hemp. The seeds are brilliant as an addition to your diet, as they contain great amounts of protein and essential nutrients like Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp is one of the only plant sources of complete protein. The seeds can also be cold-pressed into oil or combined with water to make hemp milk.
Another great use of hemp is to harvest CBD. As cannabidiol (CBD) food supplements are so popular now, farming hemp could help us to extract more CBD.
All these uses for hemp mean that nothing goes to waste. While the fibers can be used for clothes, the seeds can be used for nutrition. This really helps us out when it comes to reducing the waste us humans produce.
And it turns out that hemp has other beneficial impacts on our environmentally friendly habits…
Growing Hemp vs. Growing Cotton: Environmental Impact
There are a lot of things causing harm to our planet, and agriculture is one of them. While a large movement toward plant-based diets is focusing on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farming, the increase in demand for crops is adding to the deforestation problem. We have to find solutions to these sorts of problems, and fast.
As we mentioned above, hemp is very versatile. The fact that different parts of the plant can be used for different thing could help in cutting down farming space; the same plot of land could produce hemp destined for two different purposes.
Furthermore, hemp only needs a very small space to grow. The plant is tall and thin, taking up relatively little room. Each individual plant can be grown very close to the next, minimizing the space used. Generally, one acre of hemp can produce around 1500 pounds of fiber – this is three times the amount that cotton produces when grown in the same space.
Cotton farming is currently responsible for up to 25% of the world’s pesticide use. This is a huge problem because it causes so much environment damage, and surface run-off can pollute rivers and threaten biodiversity. Pesticides are also damaging to human health, which is an obvious problem.
On the other hand, hemp reduces soil pollution. It can be grown for extended periods of time without depleting the soil, and since it is a bio accumulator, it sucks toxins out of the soil without harming the plant’s yield. Because it is such a hardy plant, it does not require any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or insecticides. This cuts the cost of growing hemp, helps the health of farmers who would have to come into contact with these chemicals, and betters the environment.
Is Hemp Better than Cotton? Thoughts on Water Usage…
Water requirements are also a concern in agriculture. Producing 1kg (2 pounds) of cotton can require more than 20,000 liters of water. Bare in mind here that this amount of cotton is equivalent to a single t-shirt and one pair of jeans.
At this point, you probably won’t be shocked to hear that hemp requires a lot less. In a research study from the Stockholm Environment Institute, one grow used an estimated 300-500 liters of water to produce 1kg of dry hemp matter, of which 30% can be used for fiber production.
While using water in irrigation systems can be damaging to the environment and deplete our fresh water sources, hemp has another advantages here. As we have already said, it is an extremely hardy plant, and that is why it can be mostly rain-fed. As opposed to other crops, hemp needs very little tending to and can often grow just fine with minimal intervention. While farmers may not want to rely on this, it’s still a large possibility in terms of reducing our water usage.
Why Hemp is Better than Cotton… And Why It Should Be the Future of Clothing
With all this in mind, it’s shocking that we aren’t using hemp to produce our clothes already. You have to remember, though, that hemp has been outlawed for a significant period of time now, and hemp grows are few and far between in America.
Since hemp has had to be imported from other countries, the cost has been driven up.
However, the Hemp Farming Act, written into the 2018 Farm Bill, could change everything. This Act has made hemp federally legal throughout the country, and now states can grow hemp to their hearts’ content!
Obviously, this is wonderful news. Not only will patients gain access to better quality and cheaper CBD products, but we might also turn to hemp for a number of other uses. From paper to plastic, food supplements to clothing items, hemp could be our saving grace. It is certainly an environmentally friendly and versatile plant, so we can’t wait to see where it leads us.
Next time you’re thinking about hitting the shops, try and find hemp options. Your guilty conscience will thank you, and you definitely won’t regret it!