Over the last century, cotton has dominated the natural fibres market. Now, as demand begins to stretch supply and the significant environmental impacts associated with conventional cotton production come to the fore, there is a need for alternative fibres to be explored.
'Bast fibres' are natural fibres that can be extracted from the stem of certain plants, such as jute, flax, hemp and stinging nettle. They have been proposed as an avenue for exploration. Compared to cotton, bast fibres can be grown with less input, without the use of pesticides and on smaller areas of land. Their production also replenishes the soil with vital nutrients that are depleted by cotton.
Hemp is one of the most durable natural fibers on the planet and results in fabric with a wonderful drape comparable to linen.
Though hemp and other bast fibres have been used since the earliest of days -Henry VIII passed an Act of Parliament fining farmers who refused to grow hemp!- it is only more recently that research has begun developing their production and processing. Further work must be done regarding the sustainable processing of hemp and the repurposing of its waste products, but if a fraction of the resources that have been poured into cotton are diverted to hemp, we will have a real opportunity to create a solid and sustainable fibre supply chain.
A field of industrial hemp. The leaves of these plants contain less than 1% THC content (the ingredient that produces a high when smoked) whereas the marijuana plant can contain 20% THC.
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