Though hemp has been used for thousands of years and is considered a respected alternative to cotton, it wasn’t until recently that fashion brands have leaned into the fiber. Now, heritage denim brands such as Levi’s are leading the industry in hemp’s adoption, and others are slowly following in its footsteps.
Panelists at a Kingpins24 panel on Thursday theorized why it’s taken so long for the fiber to catch on throughout the industry—and much of it boils down to legalities.
“Different countries have different rules and regulations,” said Zishan Ahmed, deputy general manager, product development, Naveena Denim. “In Pakistan, our government has approved some legislation on it, so ultimately we will have a bigger crop size in the coming days.”
The Pakistan government recently announced plans to allow the industrial production of hemp, which will initially be controlled by the government and eventually open up to private businesses and farmers. According to the Jakarta Post, Pakistan’s science and technology minister Fawad Chaudhry estimated the legislation could provide the country with $1 billion over the course of the next three years.
And many could benefit from hemp-based products. Experts explained that the fiber has a number of benefits on both the consumer and the supply chain sides: It provides a greater yield for farmers and reduces the amount of water needed to grow, and it offers the wearer UV protection and natural antimicrobial benefits.
But one of the greatest benefits according to Junaid Safdar, R&D director of Siddiqsons, is that it would lessen the industry’s dependency on cotton.
“We need an alternate solution to cotton right now because water reserves are decreasing everywhere around the world, and cotton’s yield is not so great,” he said. “Hemp has a very good yield compared to cotton, and it has all of its same features.”
He noted that advancements in cottonized hemp have made the fibers comparable in nearly every aspect, with hemp leading the charge in benefits.
Johan Van den Heede, marketing director of Raymond Uco, added that its ability to blend with organic fibers is a key advantage that can take the material from summer to winter.
“Playing with the construction and with the blends, you can make beautiful products out of hemp,” he said. “It’s a bit more authentic—it gives you a more rustic feeling.”
Despite hemp’s benefits, it will take a while for the industry to drive down the cost and make it more accessible to the consumer. According to Safdar, it all boils down to supply and demand.
“Technically it should be cheaper, but it’s just a matter of time because of the demand supply,” he said. “It’s still very early stage. I think that as the time passes, it will eventually become the same price as cotton or maybe even cheaper.”