A Story of Hemp Textiles


Hemp textiles have been used in history for centuries. It is thought that hemp was one of the earliest cultivated plants for textile fibre known to humanity. Historians believed that this plant was used in Europe in approximately 1,200 BC.

After then, it spread throughout the ancient world. A few examples from early discoveries includes hemp cloth from ancient Mesopotamia found from 8,000 BC., the Chinese work of the Sung dynasty produced by Lu Shi in 500 AD and Emperor Shen Nung who lived the the 28th century BC who was also thought to have taught his people to cultivate hemp for cloth. 

When it comes to the British history, in 1535 Henry VIII passed an act condemning all landowners to sow 1/4 of an acre, or they would be fined. During this period hemp was a major crop to the point where 80% of clothing was made from hemp textiles up to the early 1900’s. By the 17th century the word ‘canvas’ was discovered during naval development when local ship production took place. Sails were named after the word cannabis due to its connection to its cousin industrial hemp.

There were also jobs for rope walkers to produce thick coarse ropes to embed sails as the material was more rot resistant and coped well with the salt water. 

What is the situation today? There is a movement to see the hemp fibre industry develop as pressures for ecological methods and materials are now required more than ever to help combat the climate crisis. We see companies such as Levi’s and Lego who last year announced that their future products will contain hemp. Bio-composites, building materials, plastics, textiles and paper are now industries which are looking for alternative materials.  

When it comes to Cultiva Clothing, our mission is to pioneer an industry which is built with a strong supply chain to cope with the high demand for fashionable garments. We might have used this natural material for generations to clothe humanity but traditional craft methods do not cut it for mass production. Most of us are still competing with China’s low production prices. This is a country which has been one of the longest cultivators of industrial hemp for over 6,000 years. So, the challenge here is to fight fast fashion by getting consumers to save and pay a bit more for a good quality product. Unfortunately, in some respects, we have to pay our way out of this climate crisis.

Currently it is the middle class who have the disposable income to do this as environmentally conscious products are highly priced. We will be bringing schemes in soon to make these types of products accessible for most people. We believe this is very important to allow the shift into alternative materials to happen a lot quicker than predicted. Not only this but we have considered the entire circular loop life cycle of hemp textiles as we understand its full environmental impact, ethical production and its life after use. 

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Did you know…? 

1.76 million tonnes of raw material enters the British clothing industry every year with a third of it becoming waste (Valuing our Clothes report, 2012). The Waste and Resources Action Programme reported £140m worth of clothes enter the landfill each year. Most of these clothes include an element of synthetic yarn. The synthetic industry is produced using intensive carbon processes relying on the petrochemical industry and fossil fuel extraction. These fibres are not biodegradable and are a major contributing factor to plastic micro-fibres shedding which is polluting our water and air. Therefore, natural fibres offer a biodegradable capability not leaving any textiles left in landfills to decompose over hundreds of years. 

One of the most devastating disasters which has been caused by the fashion industry was the disappearance of the Aral Sea found in Central Asia. It was once known to be the world’s fourth largest lake. The water had been used intensively to irrigate fields needed for the Uzbek cotton industry.  As water becomes more scarce and polluted, we need to see more natural materials which do consume less resources. Hemp uses one third of the water that cotton does and as a bioremediation crop, it will actually put nutrients back into the ground. This type of crop will offer a high fibre content per acre without the need of pesticides and herbicides which has also degraded the land. Our products are a worthy carbon capture. Through the carbon cycle, we see this atom processed through photosynthesis which in turn will produce the biological structure of the plant; proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  So, there we have it.

You can’t fault industrial hemp really when you observe the whole picture and its impact in fashion. We see products that do not compromise fashion for sustainability. This strong fibrous raw material which does not only promote longevity can also offer many solutions for some of the most polluting issues we face today. In turn this will largely reduce greenhouse gases around the world if we can utilise this plant with ecological processes. It is important that we remember the history of hemp textiles and understand its value for a future industry with exciting prospects ahead. 


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