During last decade, the concept of sustainability has become progressively integrated to the every aspect of fashion. How can we define sustainability? Why is the relationship of fashion and sustainability important? These are important questions that are frequently discussed in the world of fashion. Under this perspective, the use of eco-friendly fibers plays a key role in finding viable options to reduce the environmental transgressions that occurs during the production of textiles.
In order to understand the importance of the relationship of fashion and sustainability we must begin by exploring the meaning of sustainability. The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.” Indeed, sustainability is complex concept as it involves an analysis of how we use our natural resources while maintaining an equilibrium of optimal and efficient level of productivity and technological development. This has a tremendous impact on the fashion industry because the production of fibers, fabrics, and garments contributes largely to the world’s carbon footprint. In fact, as Mike Schofield and Alan Williams, authors of the book OCR GCSE (9-1) Business, mention, fashion industry is considered the second biggest polluter in the world just behind of the fuel industry.
Thus, to change this situation and eliminate the environmental transgressions that are involved in the production of textiles and clothing, the fashion industry has implemented a series of measures such as the reduction of the use of dyes, chemicals, fuels and water consumption. Moreover, eco-friendly fibers have starting to replace cotton, which requires a huge amount of pesticides, fertilizers, and water. For instance, the Wild World Fund reports that 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram of cotton fibers, which are only enough to manufacture one T-shirt and a pair of denim pants.
Therefore, the use of hemp for the production of textile fibers represents an attempt of the fashion industry to minimize the pollution produced by the fashion industry. Hemp has been grown since ancient times as renewable source of raw materials such as textiles. Although hemp belongs to the same species of Cannabis Sativa as marijuana, it is different from it since the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) it contains is extremely low. Therefore, it has no psychoactive effects. However, the cultivation of hemp in the United States is regulated by the Marijuana Tax Act, and until very recently hemp crops were illegal. Annie Gullingsrud in her book Fashion Fibers: Designing for Sustainability describes hemp as a rapidly renewable fiber that can grow very fast, reaching 4 meters in only three months. In addition, it requires no herbicides or special irrigation systems, which makes hemp environmentally friendly. Hemp fibers are extracted from the stalk using a mechanical process. What is most important is that natural moisture of dew is used to extract the fibers from the plant, and the remains of the stalk and leaves of it can be left on the field after the harvest. As a result, this eliminates the need of fertilizers rich in nitrogen as well as the negative impact of nitrates on the nitrogen cycle of ecosystems. On the other hand, hemp can store carbon dioxide, and it requires about half of the amount of water that is used in cotton crops. In addition, hemp is a biodegradable natural fiber, meaning that it can be decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, reducing the pollution and waste in the environment, which is generated during the manipulation of this fiber in the clothing mass production.
There are many companies like Enviro Textiles located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado that sell eco-friendly and organic textiles, especially a variety of hemp fibers. According to the Enviro Textiles’ website, they specialized on canvas, twill, muslin, weaves, knits, fleece, silk, and upholstery fabrics made of hemp. They also have sponsored famous designers like Donatella Versace, Behnaz Sarafour, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Isabel Toledo, and Calvin Klein, and these designers have included hemp fabrics in their collections. Other companies such as Nomads offer a wide variety of casual clothing made of hemp as a primary fiber source, and their target consumers are young women that care for the environment and like to look fashionable and trendy.
Undoubtedly, in this time where people are getting more conscious about the implementation of new resources to promote sustainability in the fashion field, the use of natural sustainable fibers, such as hemp, constitutes an eco-friendly alternative to create a more responsible fashion industry.
Gullingsrud Annie. Fashion Fibers: Designing for Sustainability. Fairchild Books: February 9, 2017
Schofield Mark and Williams Alan. OCR GCSE (9-1) Business. Hodder Education; 3rd revised edition: June 30, 2017