If you want comfort, style and versatility in your travel bag, try garments made from hemp.
What is Hemp fabric?
Hemp is made from the stalks of the Cannabis Sativa plant (no, it won’t make you high – the levels of the psychoactive compound THC are below 0,3% in hemp plants!). Fibers are separated from the stalks, then spun into yarn and woven or knitted into fabric.
Hemp is one of oldest known fabrics in the world. Archeologists recently unearthed a piece of hemp fabric in a house believed to have burned down 9000 years ago. Hemp has been cultivated in China since the reign of the Emperor Shen Nung in about 2700 BC, and today China remains the largest producer of hemp fabric.
Hemp was a major contributor to the “discoveries” of the world because of its importance for sailing ships. It was strong and salt resistant. Sails were made from heavy hemp canvas; hemp rope was used for rigging, and loose hemp fibers filled the spaces between wooden deck planks. To ensure supply, Henry VIII of England passed a law in 1535 forcing every landowner to plant a patch of hemp!
The very first Levi’s jeans in the 1890’s were made from hemp. In fact, nearly all clothing was made from hemp until about the 1920’s.
And today, it’s making a comeback.
What makes Hemp fabric a great choice for Travelers?
Hemp has many benefits.
- It is strong and durable, with three times the tensile strength of cotton. Even with repeated washing, the fibers don’t break down – the garment just gets softer!
- It breathes. This means that it “wicks” or moves moisture away from your body to be evaporated on the surface so you stay cool, even if you are hot.
- It is an insulator, so it keeps you warm when the weather is cold.
- Its anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties prevent odors even if you are sweaty, and you can wear a garment several times without having to wash it. This is a real bonus if you are traveling.
- It won’t grow mold or mildew if it gets wet. You can pack a damp garment in your suitcase in a plastic bag if necessary, and you won’t need to throw it away when you get home!
- It is wrinkle resistant, so it can be rolled up in your backpack or worn on the plane, and won’t look like a rag when you reach your destination!
- Hemp is versatile. It can be used for a wide range of articles and blended with several other fabrics for different textures, weights, and colors.
- It’s easy to care for. Hemp is one of the few fibers that is stronger when it is wet than when it is dry, so it can be washed by hand or in a machine, at any temperature.
Because it’s a natural product, use a gentle soap and don’t use a bleach. Air dry or dry in a tumble drier. Iron with a hot iron while it is still damp, and it will look like new. Obviously, if there are fine finishes or embroidery on the garment, wash more gently and iron on the wrong side.
Hemp is an Eco-friendly fabric option
Hemp is remarkably eco-friendly, and is totally sustainable:
- The hemp plant needs very little water – about half as much as cotton does.
- It improves soil quality. It requires very little fertilizer and during the “retting” process when fibers are separated from the stalk, up to 70% of the nutrients from the plant is returned to the soil. The plant also has long roots, so prevents soil erosion and aerates the soil.
It is grown without pesticides or herbicides. Farmers often use it as a rotation crop because it clears the land of weeds (it grows so fast and prolifically that it crowds out weeds) and it passes on pest resistance to future crops.
Hemp is Eco-friendly
If you want to make sure that the garment you are wearing is eco-friendly and organic, check that the manufacturing processes were also eco-friendly. For example, the natural retting process to strip out the fibers involves leaving the cut stalks on the ground to break down the pectin that glues the fibers to the woody stalk. This takes time, so some manufacturers use chemicals or enzymes to do it. Some of these may weaken the fiber and damage the environment. Dyeing and softening should also avoid toxic chemicals.
Organically processed hemp is a good option for those with allergies or chemical sensitivity as it is hypo-allergenic.
And, of course, when your garment gets very old and you are forced to throw it away, it is biodegradable!
How does Hemp fabric compare to other fabrics?
Hemp compares very well to other fabrics made from plants. Hemp is also often blended with these fabrics to make them longer lasting or to make the hemp softer or silkier.
Cotton is very popular, particularly because of its softness and its natural white and cream colors. Unfortunately, cotton production takes up about 25% of all pesticides used in the world. It wears out much faster than hemp and does not resist fading like hemp does. It breathes but tends to hold onto the moisture for longer – so your cotton shirt may be damp and sticking to your body when your hemp shirt isn’t.
Linen is a fabric made from the flax plant. Flax is the plant most used for bast fiber in the USA. The manufacturing process for flax is easier than for hemp; it has less lignin than hemp so it is softer and more flexible and works well with fine fabrics.
However, the flax plant is not as environmentally friendly as hemp. It seems to produce a fungus in the soil, and land must be used for other purposes for as long as 4 years before flax can be planted there again. In fact, hemp is often planted to improve the quality of the soil before flax is planted in the next season.
What clothes are made from Hemp fabric?
A quick glance at the sites offering hemp products shows how versatile this fabric is.
I looked at a site advertising drawstring pants, collared shirts, pullovers, skirts, shopping bags, belts, and even yoga mats, beach flip-flops and oven gloves on the same page. You could use all of these on your travels – well, maybe not the oven gloves!
If you want to be both stylish and comfortable while you travel, you might join the “athleisure” trend. This combines the styling of casual wear with the technologies of active wear – like wicking to keep you dry or stretch to allow for movement and to prevent wrinkling. Hemp is obviously great for this trend.
Layering with Hemp
Another trend is layering. So, a hemp button-down shirt over a knit top with a travel blazer would be a great travel outfit, whether you are male or female. You can add or take away as the temperature changes between departure and destination. Add a hemp shawl to use as a blanket along the way, and to brighten up your look when you arrive. Match with some trendy drawstring pants and dramatic hemp jewelry and you’ll turn heads for all the right reasons.
As for many things, you get what you pay for when you buy a hemp product. Really good quality might cost a bit more, but you’ll be rewarded with a garment that lasts for a long time. You’ll be doing your bit for the environment too.
Written By Kate Mark
Kate is a mid-lifer who quit a growing corporate career to reawaken her passions and her lifelong dream of traveling the world.