Hemp Clothing Is Happening, and No, It Won’t Get You High (#GotBitcoin?)
Once sullied by its associations with seedy drug culture, the irreproachable hemp plant is gaining ground in summer fabrics that rival wrinkly linen. Hemp Clothing Is Happening, and No, It Won’t Get You High (#GotBitcoin?)
LAST YEAR Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signed his name on the 2018 Farm Bill using a pen made of hemp. Among other initiatives, the bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances list, where it had languished since 1970. To address the elephant in the article: Hemp is not marijuana, its THC-potent sibling. It’s a perfectly respectable (read: non-high inducing) plant that produces fibers for textiles, plastics, paper and a host of other products. The passing of the Farm Bill is the surest sign yet that hemp has shed its headshop connotations and entered the mainstream. Included in that transformation is its legitimacy as a valid, even desirable, fabric for modern clothing.
According to many designers and fans, hemp is an eco-friendly alternative to cotton, requiring less water to produce and regenerating at a far more rapid rate. It is also a suitable summer-weight substitute for wrinkle-prone linen. “Everyone walks up to it and is like, ‘Oh my God, this is linen,’” said Ally Ferguson, the owner of Seeker, a 2-year-old hemp-based label in Los Angeles. Her brand’s lightweight trousers and jackets (made from imported hemp) have a clean, almost Scandinavian aesthetic, one that calls to mind a minimal urban coffee shop, not Woodstock. “When people look at it they’re like, ‘It’s not really hippie or crunchy. That’s super clean and I want to wear that.’”
‘As evidenced by its nautical uses, hemp is impressively durable.’
As evidenced by its nautical uses since at least the Viking era, hemp is impressively durable. Companies like Patagonia and Levi’s are exploiting this quality by fashioning the material into hardy work trousers and jeans. “It was the original sail cloth, so it’s really resistant to ripping and pulling,” said Antonio Ciongoli, the designer of 18 East, a New York label that made all of its lightweight summer sweaters from Italian hemp this year. He also focused on hemp because it doesn’t crumple like linen, the more common choice for an airy knit. “The fibers are really strong,” noted Mr. Ciongoli. You can stuff a hemp sweater in your suitcase or wear it on a hot day without being subjected to unsightly puckering.
Though it has clear aesthetic and ecological advantages, hemp fiber is not readily available on a large scale here in America. Jeffrey Silberman, a professor and chairperson of textile development at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, stated that it takes a specific type of processing equipment to turn hemp into a fiber, and that type of machinery is still scarce. “New York state doesn’t have the processing equipment for it, at least as far as I can tell. I haven’t found a spinning mill that can handle hemp,” he said. Nonetheless, universities in New York and North Carolina are working on America’s hemp development, and Mr. Silberman predicts that hemp’s rehabbed reputation will make it a closet staple soon enough. “It’s not scratchy anymore and it’s not based on a five pointed leaf,” he said. “It’s based on its being a real fiber that can make a real fabric.”
THE HEMP EVANGELISTS / Three Gentlemen Who Have Enthusiastically—And Sometimes Alarmingly—Heralded the Plant’s Arrival on the Scene
The ponytailed CEO of the backpacker-classic soap brand, David Bronner was arrested in 2012 after installing himself in a steel cage full of hemp plants and preparing a nice snack of hemp oil on bread. Atop the cage stood a sign: “Dear Mr. President. Let U.S. farmers grow hemp!”
In 1997, Woody Harrelson wore a vanilla-colored all-hemp tuxedo to the Golden Globes. “We’re still pushing the cause,” the longtime hemp advocate told a reporter. The cause was noble, but the tuxedo, with an awkward standing collar and matching ascot, was an eyesore.
Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and three-time presidential hopeful, has been one of Washington’s most fervent boosters of hemp as an industrial crop. He often said, “If you want to get high on hemp, you have to smoke a cigarette as big as a phone pole.”
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